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Living through a natural disaster is terrifying for anyone. Now imagine you are deaf or hard of hearing.

Governor's Office

Communicating with all Kentuckians — including the hearing-impaired — has been a top priority both in Western Kentucky after deadly tornadoes and now in Eastern Kentucky, where deadly flooding killed at least 37 dead and left thousands either homeless or in need of aid.

Natural disasters are traumatic enough on their own, but they present extra challenges for those with a hearing impairment trying to navigate through countless agencies to get the services they need.

Virginia Moore is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. She says officials at FEMA centers are bridging that gap with telecommunications equipment like amplified phones and voice-automated caption devices accessible through smart phone and iPad apps.

"When they come into a shelter and see something like that, they'll go 'Ok, they know I need something to help me communicate,' and it takes just that little, slight level of stress off them," Moore explains.

Moore was instrumental in ensuring the deaf and hard of hearing community wasn't forgotten during daily press briefings by Governor Andy Beshear at the start of the pandemic.

Now, sign language is a part of all the governor's press conferences, which has been vital for the more than 700,000 Kentuckians who are deaf or hard of hearing. Moore is also focused on educating all of us on how to step up and help.

"If someone is not answering you... or if you're talking to someone and that person has not turned and listened, that person has a hearing loss," she says. "Go up to them, tap them on their shoulder, and if you notice that they look at you, say, 'Can you hear what I'm saying?' or ask them 'How is the best way to communicate with you?' Take a beat. Take a breath. Make sure that if you're giving instructions to somebody that they are looking at you or are following your instructions."

Moore will be carrying an emergency phone specifically to help the deaf and hard of hearing community. If you know someone who needs that line it's: 502-319-24-57.

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