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Kentuckians encouraged to make communication inclusive during Better Hearing and Speech Month

With more than 700,000 people in Kentucky currently experiencing some degree of hearing loss, the coronavirus outbreak has prompted businesses, organizations and community leaders across the country to take stock and begin changing their methods of communication to be more inclusive.

May, which is Better Hearing and Speech Month, is the perfect time for the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (KCDHH) to not only remind people of the importance of hearing health, the signs of hearing loss, and resources available, but also to promote inclusive communication.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new awareness to how vital it is to include everyone when we are communicating, especially during an emergency,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “I have learned so much from having Virginia Moore with KCDHH interpreting for me during my daily press conferences. It has really opened everyone’s eyes to the needs of so many people.”

Virginia Moore

“We know dealing with hearing loss during the coronavirus outbreak may trigger some feelings of stress or anxiety,” said Virginia Moore, executive director of KCDHH. “Hearing loss is tough enough in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic.”

Since the state of emergency began, Moore has been interpreting for Beshear at daily COVID-19 news conference using American Sign Language (ASL). This is the first time that a Kentucky governor has invited an ASL interpreter to translate press conferences for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Moore is a certified sign language interpreter.

In addition, Moore does a video recap of each press conference using ASL and captions at the KCDHH website at www.kcdhh.ky.gov.

“We are really proud of the work that Virginia and her staff at KCDHH are doing each day to make sure the deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind Kentuckians have access to life-saving information during the pandemic crisis,” said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman. “I think seeing Virginia interpreting for Gov. Beshear every day has elevated the needs of this community to the public and piqued their interest in learning sign language.”

KCDHH is an agency in the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet where Coleman is the secretary.

KCDHH has designed a COVID-19 Communication Card that can be downloaded for free at www.kcdhh.ky.gov to help deaf and hard of hearing individuals express their medical symptoms to health care providers. There are also several applications and services, including video remote interpreting and live transcription services that patients can install on their smartphones and other devices that are listed on the KCDHH website at www.nad.org.

According to the Better Hearing Institute, the primary causes of hearing loss are aging and previous exposure to loud noise, or noise-induced hearing loss. This can be caused by exposure to different types of occupational noise, such as that experienced by soldiers, construction workers, bartenders, dentists and landscapers, or by the recreational noise encountered when attending concerts, riding motorcycles and listening to music through headphones.

Hearing loss is also one of the most common military service-related injuries, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Hearing loss is a growing complaint among today’s veterans because of their history of noise exposure, which, for many of them, is also coupled with aging.

“Individuals with gradual hearing loss often don’t recognize their issues until they have isolated themselves,” said Moore. “Untreated hearing loss can lead to earlier onset dementia which could affect relationships, your health and your safety.”

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For those with a hearing loss, communication access is especially important during an emergency.

According to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind Americans who seek medical treatment amid the COVID-19 crisis and medical professionals serving them may encounter significant barriers to communication. NAD estimates that up to 650,000 Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind may go to the hospital for COVID-19 treatment, overwhelming hospitals and medical personnel.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act, hospitals and other medical facilities are required to provide appropriate in-person and/or remote sign language interpretation services and captioners or written communications to patients and/or companions who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind. The form of communication must comport with the specific needs of each deaf or hard of hearing patient and/or companion, as each person’s communication method is individualized.

Some major indicators that you may be losing your hearing include:

• Frequently asking people to repeat themselves;
• Often turning your ear toward a sound to hear it better;
• Understanding people better when you wear your glasses or look directly at their faces;
• Having trouble following group conversations;
• Keeping the volume on your radio or television at a level that others say is too loud; or
• Having pain or ringing in your ears.

If you are experiencing any of the signs above, or if you think you have hearing loss, see your doctor or a licensed audiologist to assess the degree of your hearing loss, treat it, and develop a plan to prevent further loss.

There are several assistive technologies available through KCDHH’s Telecommunications Access Program (TAP) that can help you stay connected to emergency information and health care providers.

For more information, visit the Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing website at kcdhh.ky.gov.

From Education & Workforce Development Cabinet

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