This story was published online by The State newspaper on February 2, 2017. It is republished here with permission.
By Josh Mitelman, The State
One has been called a “rock star.”
The other was recently praised by someone millions consider one.
On Thursday, certified deaf interpreter Jason Hurdich — who became a sensation around the country for the enthusiastic manner in which he signed for former Gov. Nikki Haley during her televised Hurricane Matthew news conferences — drove from Charleston to Seabrook on Thursday to visit Ambriance Lamar, a senior at Whale Branch Early College High School.
The 18-year-old student, who is not deaf but is unable to vocalize because of a medical condition, got a great deal of media attention after former president Barack Obama wrote her Jan. 9 in response to the letter Lamar had written him three months earlier.
With an eloquence befitting someone with a 4.25 GPA, Lamar asked Obama for help on behalf of those who cannot vocalize and the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities. Specifically, she asked for the addition of a notice on driver’s licenses and plates to alert officers that drivers communicate differently.
“I think (the letter is) very inspiring, and you know you could change the world, right?” Hurdich, who was born deaf, said to Lamar through interpreter Jana Swenson. “It only requires one person from the community to get things started and to support a cause.”
Hurdich, who is also a counselor with Vocational Rehabilitation in Charleston, told Lamar that seeing her story inspired him.
“I was really impressed with you because deaf people typically kind of sit back and just accept how things are. But you took action, and you wanted to see change and wanted to do something, so you wrote that letter.”
Lamar became a fan of Hurdich during the Haley news conferences.
Asked how she felt about meeting him, she said, “Excited. I feel really excited,” before smiling a mega-watt smile.
The meeting was a surprise. During their meeting, Hurdich and Lamar pulled out their driver’s licenses and compared them.
Although she speaks only using sign language, Lamar’s license has no restrictions, so if she were pulled over, an officer might not be able to tell that she communicates differently.
Hurdich’s license, on the other hand, shows restrictions, including “hearing-impaired.”
Can Hurdich help Lamar push for legislation?
“We can work together,” he told told Lamar, who lost her ability to vocalize after contracting West Nile virus when she was 2 years old.
This weekend, Lamar will visit Valdosta State, among the colleges she’s considering attending. If she chooses VSU, she wants to attend the school’s deaf-education program.
Those who were charmed by Hurdich during the Haley news conferences might wonder why he was so animated.
People in the hearing community “pick up a lot that the deaf people would miss, just from side conversations that happen. So I have to make sure that the message of what the governor is trying to convey to the community is understood by the deaf community.
“So if I (was) in that situation and I couldn’t hear the information, how I am going to get that point across?”
Very well indeed, his fans say.