'Not all heroes wear capes.' Meet Beshear's briefing buddy

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FRANKFORT, Ky, (AP) — She's a cop, chasing down the Pike County bingo hall and the Floyd County flea market. She's on the bridge of the starship Enterprise, standing just behind the captain. She's Robin to Batman.

In the memefest surrounding Gov. Andy Beshear's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, fans have not forgotten Virginia Moore, the American Sign Language interpreter who is part of the daily comfort briefings at 5 p.m. every day.

Which she is not so sure about. Because she has never been called out to in the pharmacy by a stranger, as she was this weekend, and she does not, she said, have the body of Wonder Woman, except in social media.

"It's sort of an uncomfortable place to be," the state's most recent Kentucky Colonel said of her new fame.
"But people are stuck at home and if they need to do something to bring a little humor, well, that's fantastic."

Off of social media, Moore, 58, is not just any interpreter and Beshear sidekick, she's the executive director of the Kentucky Commission of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which serves 700,000 people in Kentucky.

"In past administrations, it was very difficult to try to communicate the need to have an interpreter, but we contacted him (Beshear) and we said there are 700,000 people who are deaf and hard of hearing, they need this information," Moore said. "He said get on over here and we did it twice a day, every day. He took advantage of the fact we were there, he opened that door so fast and so completely. It is why the communities all over our Facebook are saying 'this is the first time we've had full access, thank you, thank you, thank you.' "

The 700,000 population is taken from the 2010 census, and when the 2020 census is complete, she said, the number will go up for two reasons: Kids and earbuds and veterans coping with hearing loss and tinnitus.

"If there's anything positive, and we have to look for a positive nugget, it's that we're going to get to a point where it's not novel to have an interpreter," she said.

Moore is a CODA, child of deaf parents, and several deaf siblings, so she learned ASL before English. She grew up in Louisville, where her dad did paste-up for the Courier-Journal. (That's a now obsolete practice.)

She planned to be a criminologist at Michigan State, but after her dad was killed in a car wreck, she came home and fell into interpreting, then working at the Commission, and finally, running it.

The commission oversees nearly all of the resources for the deaf and hard of hearing in Kentucky, including the Deafestival, which allows parents and kids to see all the job opportunities that are out there, many more than there used to be thanks to technology.

"In our festival we have deaf attorneys, deaf pilots, deaf nurses, the opportunities are so much more today because technology has just blown the door open," Moore said.

There's also the career of ASL interpreting, which will continue to be needed. Moore stepped up to help Beshear because of a shortage of interpreters in her state, despite a good interpreter training program at Eastern Kentucky University.

For now, Moore is making the daily trek from her office to the Capitol and worrying a little bit about clothes. Interpreters usually wear black, but against the dark blue of the Capitol briefing room, she can look like a disembodied head and hands. On Monday, she chose a UK blue jacket, but "it's not like I can go shopping."

Her fans don't care. Mary Nishimuta, the director of the state Democratic Party has been so impressed that after work one day, she created a meme for Moore of her face saying "Not all heroes wear capes!"

"Virginia Moore is doing an amazing job at making sure more Kentuckians can participate in what has become the fireside chat of our time," Nishimuta said. "She and the entire team deserve tons of praise for the vital job they're doing."

Beshear confirmed that Moore reached out to his office within hours of the first COVID-19 case, "and has been a reliable, calming presence at our daily briefings ever since," he said in a statement. "I couldn't be more thankful for her leadership during this trying time and throughout her career advocating for the deaf and hard of hearing."

Moore hopes her fame will be short-lived, and that the state can get back to normal before too long. But she also hopes there's a little girl or boy who's deaf or hard of hearing that's watching the daily briefing, "and they know that when they turn on the TV, they're part of this, too, that we're all one Kentucky team.

"It's my five minutes of fame for what I hope is a much longer impact."

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