A Colorado Springs nonprofit is distributing clear masks to help people who are deaf and hard of hearing communicate better.

Masks made communication difficult during the pandemic between muffled voices and lack of facial cues. But for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, communicating with masks is more than an inconvenience and can severely inhibit communication when people who are deaf or hard of hearing cannot see lips moving.

Nearly 4.5% of Colorado's population is deaf or has or serious difficulty hearing, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Many deaf and hard of hearing individuals out there are going through such a hard time," Rebecca Hull, an outreach specialist for the Independence Center said.

The Independence Center, a local nonprofit that strives to help people with disabilities "participate in civic life as equals," teamed up with The Pikes Peak Community Foundation Emergency Relief Fund to provide free masks and face shields with clear windows to people in the Pikes Peak region who are deaf or hard of hearing and to those who communicate often with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as teachers. 

"During the pandemic, as an individual who lip reads I became so frustrated living in a masked society," Hull said. "I am very fortunate that I work for a organization like the Independence Center that has the resources to make this active change."

Those who need a clear mask can fill out a request at https://www.theindependencecenter.org/mask-order-form/ to receive a mask by mail, or those who make an appointment with the Independence Center can pick up their mask between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday. Those who need masks after Friday can order them for delivery using the online form until supplies run out, Hull said.

"I am a huge believer that communication is the foundation of community," Hull said. 

Wearing a clear mask is one step that can help communication, but Hull emphasized that little steps such as offering to write a note out on your phone to communicate or making eye contact can be a huge help for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

"Everyone can contribute," Hull said.

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