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Breaking the sound barrier

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

Their goal is to make the world of silence a little easier for their clients and loved ones. Citrus Hearing Impaired Program Services (CHIPS), which opened a branch in Marion County off State Road 200 in May 2008, offers a variety of services to the deaf, hearing impaired, and speech impaired.

The nonprofit organization provides interpreting, education, referral services and advocacy to its clients. “There is a need” for these types of services in Marion County, said Maryjo Lawson, CHIPS program manager.

The program also offers some services at no cost to the patient. For example, the telephone equipment that the group provides is free to Florida residents, who qualify.

In addition, the Corridor branch recently started its first American Sign Language (ASL) class at the beginning of January. Lawson said sign language has become popular and people have even begun teaching it to their infant children. “It’s a fun and easy language to learn. And you never know when you might need it,” she said.

During the six-week program, Lawson who teaches the class, said the students learn basic signs like colors and numbers, deaf culture and creating sentences. By the end of the two-hour weekly course, the students will have learned about 180 to 200 words, she said.

To make the class more enjoyable for the students and to make it easier for them to learn, she uses preschool games like Go Fish and flashcards. “My class is really fun,” she said.

The class also uses snacks as a learning tool. During M&Ms night, the students get different colors of the popular candy. The snacks are then used to practice signing colors and counting. At the end of the lesson the students get to eat the sweet treats.

Though the Marion County branch of CHIPS is currently only offering a beginning course, Lawson said if the class goes well they may add an intermediate and advanced class. The January course is already closed and usually costs $40.

Funding CHIPS

To help fund CHIPS, which was founded in 1988, several fundraisers are planned each year. Among other things, the group raises money by selling snow cones at various events, Lawson said.

They also took a three-day trip to the Bahamas on Carnival Cruise Line. For every room booked by CHIPS, it received a portion of the proceeds. They had about 20 people set sail on the cruise.

In addition, the program receives funding through United Way in Citrus County and gets money for training people on specialized hearing impaired equipment. The organization has also applied for money through United Way of Marion County to help with cost of hearing aids. The money would cover the cost of the application process for hearing devices.

For more information about CHIPS, call 368-4070. The office is at 8960 S.W. Hwy. 200, suite 2, in Royal Palms Plaza. Open Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.