South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation Department

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Famed SC interpreter visits Whale Branch student praised by Obama

Ambriance Lamar, right, a senior at Whale Branch Early College High School, poses for a photo with Jason Hurdich, a counselor and interpreter for the deaf and hard of hearing, at the school onFeb. 2, 2017. Hurdich, who is deaf, became a sensation around the country last October for his enthusiastic and emotional signing for former Gov. Nikki Haley during press conferences for Hurricane Matthew. Hurdich said he wanted to visit Lamar, who is speech-impaired, after seeing the media coverage she got after former president Barack Obama, last month, responded to a letter she had written advocating for the deaf and speech-impaired communities.

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.

Jason Hurdich is a certified deaf interpreter. He became a sensation with his enthusiastic and emotional signing at former Gov. Nikki Haley's televised press conferences in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. On Feb. 2, 2017, Hurdich, who is is deaf and who also has interpreted for former President Barack Obama, drove from Charleston to meet Whale Branch Early College High School student Ambriance Lamar. The 18-year-old student with a 4.25 is not deaf but speaks only with sign language. Hurdich says he had to meet Lamar after reading her incredible story, which includes getting a personal letter from Obama last month.

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.