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Kentucky Heroes: Meet ASL Interpreter Virgina Moore

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Karyn Czar
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As we all make our way through the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic together and get used to this new “normal”, I wanted to feature people across the state who are doing whatever they can to make a difference. I was lucky enough to sit down; more than six feet away of course, with American Sign Language Interpreter Virginia Moore. She has stood to the left of Governor Andy Beshear since the virus first hit Kentucky last month, bringing important messages to the deaf and hard of hearing.

KARYN: Thank you Virginia for taking time to meet with me so that our listeners can get to know you a little better. How did this unique and much needed partnership with you and the Governor’s office begin?

VIRGINIA: Well this is sort of a unique situation and if you had to say there was a golden nugget in anything that might be what this is there are 700,000 deaf and hard of hearing and we are talking about a majority of those individuals are hard of hearing but you also have deaf individuals. And we have been trying to work with the administration for several years in the past to try to see when there is an important situation and when there is an emergency we need to reach out to the community that needs to hear it as well. I approached Governor Beshear’s office and that door was just opened quickly and he invited us up there to be a part of this to get the information across. It’s just been a fabulous experience for everyone.

KARYN: I’m mesmerized watching you and so many people have said the same thing and we’re trying to pick up some of it because you’re so expressive and that’s such a difference between reading it on the bottom of the screen. What’s the feedback been for you from that community?

VIRGINIA: It’s been tremendous. First of all for the deaf community they’re getting it first-hand which they never have before. So they are delighted to be able to get this first-hand, to understand what’s going on and to understand that the Governor really has compassion for Kentuckians and what he wants Kentuckians to try to do to make sure that we’re safe. Hard of hearing individuals, the captioning is very important, but to see the expression and sort of to merge the two is also very helpful. I have had several individuals reach out to me to say that they want to learn sign language or their son or daughter wants to get into sign language and I think that’s excellent. We have a shortage of interpreters here in the state of Kentucky and it is a great career. Easter Kentucky University has a wonderful program and so does the University of Louisville. So I’m hoping that actually we can get more individuals into the career.

KARYN: I didn’t realize and you just reiterated, 700 thousand, that’s as important as learning Spanish in Kentucky and I don’t think anyone made that connection until now.  

VIRGINIA: Yes absolutely! And a lot of people don’t know that sign language is actually the third most prevalent language here in the United States.

KARYN: Really?

VIRGINIA: Yes. And something else people don’t understand or realize and that is and that is American Sign Language is pertinent to the United States but there’s also Spanish Sign Language there’s French Sign Language so every culture, every language has its own in sign language as well. So American Sign Language has a culture, it has grammar which is on my face when people talk that I’m expressive, that’s some of the culture and some of the grammar coming across.

KARYN: Can you also sign in Spanish?

VIRGINIA: No I cannot. I know a little bit. I know enough to be dangerous as they say. And I know something called gestuno which I have been to other countries when we’ve had to sort of merge the two languages in a gestuno type, it’s a more gestural type of communication.

KARYN: And it’s very specific. I tried to learnthank you” and I already messed up right out of the box just by one hand movement I said “good” instead of “thank you” so it’s very precise.

VIRGINIA: Very precise. Very precise. In fact there was an individual that came to the School for the deaf once and he wanted to sign thank you to the principal and he said thank you to the potato. And the kids of course just cracked up laughing. But it’s all as simple as just a slight movement and it went from principal to potato.

KARYN: What do you hope people take away from this once this is all over when it comes to the deaf and hard of hearing?

VIRGINIA: What I’ve sort of explained before, I think the toothpaste is out of the tube in the sense that access is needed. We hope that it’s always going to be there. Television stations have picked this up and they’re captioning more. We know that during emergency situations I’ve always been concerned that we don’t have an interpreter. That we don’t have a captioner and that’s what’s fabulous. I’m on a national group of administrators for the commission on the deaf and hard of hearing like myself. That’s a state agency as well with the Governor’s office and individuals like myself have talked about this. Kentucky actually is leading in the fact that we’ve provided so much access. Other states have contacted me to say how did you all get this much access? And we just said our Governor is compassionate and he wants the information out. So we’re thankful for that but we know that this point going forward, it’s going to be different for us.

KARYN: And that was my last question. How nice is it to know that now you’re leading the way and other states are looking to us and to you?

VIRGINIA: They have been and they’ve asked me how we were able to succeed with this and we’ve explained it and I know that the Governor wants Kentucky to be number one in so many different areas. Especially in the fact that we’re leading in the fight against the COVID virus. But we are number one in the fact that we’re providing one of the best access.

KARYN: Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t know to ask?

VIRGINIA: I just think that it is such an important…I appreciate NPR coming out and doing this interview and talking to us. And you may think well the deaf community or the hard of hearing community may not hear this. No. Their daughter, their grandson, their neighbor, someone might hear about this and they can reach out to The Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and we would love to provide you all with information. We would love to provide anyone who is trying to cope with hearing loss with information and we’re at https://www.kcdhh.ky.gov/  (Karyn signs thank you) And you signed that perfectly!

KARYN: YES!

VIRGINIA: You just signed thank you and you signed it perfectly!

KARYN: Thank you!

VIRGINIA: (signs) And you’re welcome.

KARYN: (signs) You’re welcome.

VIRGINA: (signs) Yes.   

KARYN: That was American Sign Language Interpreter Virginia Moore. I had such a wonderful time getting to know her. Just such a kind spirit inside and out. You of course can watch her sign every day at 5:00 during Governor Andy Beshear’s press briefing. And they’ve added a new element. Every day Virginia will teach us a new phrase in sign language. 

Karyn Czar joined the WUKY News team July 1, 2013, but she's no stranger to radio.
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