The Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is rolling into town on Saturday for the annual Deafestival, an event aimed at serving the more than 700,000 deaf and hard of hearing people living throughout Kentucky.
“It is a visual wonder when you walk into Deafestival and you see communication happening,” says Virginia L. Moore, executive director of the KCDHH.
Moore has been with the commission for 24 years and served as it executive director for the last five. Her connection to the deaf community comes through strong familial ties.
“Both my parents are deaf, and I have some deaf siblings,” says Moore.
She spoke with Insider by phone to talk about the festival, its dual mission, the growing number of deaf and hard of hearing individuals in Kentucky and — yes — ninja warriors.
Deafestival is designed to help a number of groups connected to the deaf community, including deaf and hard of hearing children and adults, their parents, and deaf artists and performers.
A lot of that help comes in the form of showing these individuals that they are in fact part of a community and teaching them how to break down communication barriers.
Unlike many marginalized groups, the deaf and hard of hearing often don’t have peers and role models immediately available. Some deaf children have never met another deaf person.
“We had a little girl walk up to a deaf adult and say, ‘Are you sure you’re deaf?’ The adult said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘I didn’t think I would ever grow up,’ because she had never seen another deaf adult,” says Moore.
There are a number of hearing parents who have a deaf child and are frequently unprepared. They need to have access and education on the deaf community, its culture and the resources available. Deafestival gives those parents that access and helps them enter the world in which their children will be living.
There also are plenty of adults who need to learn they aren’t alone. In Kentucky, there is a growing population of adults with hearing loss, and KCDHH is trying to further the outreach to that population. For some of these adults, the communication barrier is made even taller, because they don’t want to admit they have hearing loss.
“We’re trying to help them understand that it’s OK,” explains Moore.
Moore believes Deafestival shows kids and parents that deaf and hard of hearing individuals are not limited in what they can dream and achieve.
“What they will see are role models. Everyone that performs — all the visual artists are deaf and hard of hearing, and they have their own stories. The whole world will be flipped. Everyone there will be signing,” she says.
Some of those success stories have managed to inspire folks all over the country. Kyle Schulze is a competitor from the popular show “American Ninja Warrior.” He competed and won at a preliminary course in Indianapolis and is now headed to nationals in the fall.
Schulze has been deaf since birth and is joined by deaf artists and performers, like drummer Sean Forbes, performance artist Rosa Lee, rapper WAWA, along with magicians, storytellers, dancers and fire breathers.
There also are more than a dozen visual artists. For any younger artists, the barriers to getting their work seen may seem insurmountable, but it’s even more so for deaf artists.
“Can you imagine being deaf or hard of hearing and trying to participate in the St. James Art Fair for the first time?” says Moore. “So we say, come here. You’re going to be an artist here, and we’re going to help you figure out how to communicate.”
The big goal for that initiative is to help those artists move their work beyond Deafestival and into the larger world.
“They get their confidence up. Some of these individuals are extremely good artists. And then they say, ‘Yes. I can do St. James.’ ”
Moore returns many times to theme of communication, stressing that creating a community out of this diverse collection of people starts with giving people the opportunity to talk to each other.
“Communication is the key,” she says. “Helen Keller was asked, if you had a choice to be deaf or blind, which would it be? She said she would be blind, that blindness separates you from things, but deafness separates you from people.”
Deafestival takes place Saturday, Sept. 1, from 9:45 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Galt House, 140 N. Fourth St. The event is free, and hearing individuals are encouraged to attend.