COLORADO SPRINGS — The ongoing pandemic has created an unexpected problem for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Most face masks on the market block lip movements and facial expressions which are key traits deaf people use to understand you.
The good news---there's a solution.
In partnership with the Pikes Peak Community Foundation Emergency Relief Fund, The Independence Center will be passing out clear face masks and shields they say are critical in helping people who are deaf and hard of hearing communicate while staying safe.
Rebecca Hull is wearing what's considered to be a game changer for the deaf community.
It's a face mask similar to the ones you see in a doctor's office. However, these masks contain a clear plastic film strip so that your lips can be seen.
"I've been contacted by deaf and hard of hearing people in other states saying they wish they had this option way back when the pandemic started," Hull said.
Unfortunately, these masks aren't available in just any neighborhood store.
In order to increase accessibility to these special masks and shields, The Independence Center will be passing them out on Feb. 18 and Feb. 19 by appointment-only. They can also mail them at no-charge for people who cannot travel.
Statistics from the Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing:
Total CO residents who identify as deaf: 46,488
Total CO residents who identify as hard of hearing: 399,444
As Colorado's population rapidly grows, The Independence Center believes as many as half a million people identify as deaf or hard of hearing.
"A good example is to think about when you go grocery shopping," Hull said. "You're ready to check out and the cashier asks whether you found everything okay. I have no idea that person is trying to communicate with me. I can't see their lips move and then the person is thinking I'm ignoring them which is not my intention. By wearing a mask that allows me to lip read and know you want to have a conversation with me, you're already showing that you understand that people (who are deaf) exist and it shows inclusivity."
Q: Can anyone get a free clear face mask or shield?
A: The clear face masks and shields are free to people who are deaf or hard of hearing and to others who regularly interact with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Q: Are clear face masks for children available?
A: Yes. The Independence Center has a supply of Rafi Nova masks for children.
Q: Can I get more than one mask?
A: Yes, but supplies are limited. Only a few masks can be provided per request and they will be distributed on a first come-first served basis.
Q: How do I make an appointment to pick up a mask?
A: Click here for information on how to order and receive your masks.
Q: What if I can't drive to pick up a mask?
A: The Independence Center can make arrangements to mail you a mask at no charge.