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Masks make communication difficult for Colorado's deaf and hearing-loss community

clear covid mask deaf coloradans
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 01:15:54-04

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As Colorado responds to the coronavirus pandemic, the muffled sounds of people wearing masks can be difficult for anyone to understand, but for the deaf community in particular, face coverings can make communication especially frustrating.

"I've been deaf all my life," said Gena Perry, who before the pandemic could read lips to communicate.

When she went into a Woodland Park Post Office this week, the person behind the counter's face was covered.

"She had her mask on, so I let her know that I'm deaf. She kept talking, so I said excuse me I'm deaf could you please write it down," said Perry. "She grabbed the paper so hard and wrote down so hard that it went through the paper, that it ripped the paper, and she showed it to me with a huge attitude."

It was upsetting enough to Gena that she told her sister, Mikaela Tracy, who posted about her sister's experience on Facebook.

"I felt it was important to put it out there," said Tracy. "This is a hard time for everybody, and you add a disability in there and that just make it even harder."

The president of the Colorado Association of the Deaf, Vance Youngs, agrees that this is a difficult time for the deaf community. But he said, to be clear, they support mask-wearing.

"We in the deaf community understand which is more important: our health or the ability to communicate. We realize that the number one priority is health, and communication is second."

Which is why Englewood-based ADCO Hearing Products is now making masks with clear plastic windows.

"The communications breakdown from the hearing-loss community, where they weren't able to read lips in a conversation as they used to pre-COVID, they now have that opportunity with loved ones, family members, their doctors. So we have had a really good response with that."

Medical workers and schools have been buying thousands of the "communication window" masks as concerns grow about how children with hearing loss will communicate when class resumes.

Perry wants to raise awareness before then.

"It made me feel like crap, and I sure hope she doesn't treat other people like that," she said.

Contact7 reached out to the U.S Postal Service, and a spokesman sent this statement:

"Thank you for bringing this to our attention, our intent is not to inconvenience any of our customers and we will address this situation. We are reviewing our procedures so that all customers have access to our services through this changing COVID-19 environment. We apologize for any inconvenience."

Youngs recommends businesses have a pen and paper ready for customers with hearing loss.

"It benefits everyone," said Youngs."And not just the deaf community, the hearing community, too, when you consider seniors with hearing loss. So, it really could be a potential benefit for everyone."