‘Rock Star’ Interpreter Offers Insight into the Deaf Community at Upcoming Talk

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s “rock star” sign language interpreter during Hurricane Matthew will offer CofC students insight into the challenges of life for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing during an event Wednesday at the Stern Center Ballroom.

The event, titled “The World Through Deaf Eyes: A Talk of Inclusion and Accessibility,” will feature certified Deaf Interpreter Jason Hurdich, who became a media sensation last fall when he appeared alongside Haley during press conferences regarding Hurricane Matthew. The event, which will highlight the evolution of Deaf and disability rights, is presented by the Center of Disability Services, Student Life and the College’s Sign Language Club.

Sociology major Tonicha Henry helped launch the CofC Sign Language Club in January.

Student Tonicha Henry, who spearheaded the launch of the College’s Sign Language Club in January, reached out to Hurdich earlier this year about hosting him at CofC to engage the campus community in a discussion about sign language and the Deaf community — which Hurdich says capitalizes the word “Deaf” to reflect the cultural perspective of the group.

“I wanted to open up a conversation about how the hearing community can make the world more accessible for the Deaf community,” says Henry, who became interested in sign language while researching a potential career in speech language pathology.

One of the primary issues for the Deaf community, says Hurdich, is the language barriers Deaf children face from birth.

“The biggest challenge is really accessing language,” Hurdich, who was born deaf, says through an interpreter.

Although the majority of deaf children are born to hearing families, Hurdich says only 8 percent of hearing families with deaf children learn sign language.

“So that means for 92 percent (of deaf children) there’s communication gaps even within their own homes,” says Hurdich, who is a rehabilitation counselor for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing with the S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation Department.

As the state’s only certified Deaf interpreter, Hurdich’s animated approach to sign language for which he became known, is one that caters to a Deaf audience and aims to bridge any language gaps that may exist for that audience. During Hurricane Matthew, a hearing interpreter off camera would sign the governor’s words to Hurdich, who would then sign it on camera for the Deaf community.

“I take the message and interpret it in a cultural equivalence to meet the needs of all Deaf people, not just those who know American Sign Language,” he says.

The solution to language gaps in the Deaf community, in part, says Hurdich, is to increase the prevalence of sign language and sign language interpreters in public school systems. Another piece to the puzzle, he says, is for the hearing and medical communities to view deafness not as an impairment (Hurdich says the phrase “hearing impaired” is considered as a taboo within the Deaf community), but as a normal part of the human condition.

“The medical community views deafness as a problem that can be fixed in terms of an illness that needs a cure, but the Deaf community encounters deafness as a cultural norm, a linguistic component, not something that needs to be fixed,” he says.

Henry, who is a senior majoring in sociology, says she wants the event to inspire a bigger world view for those in the hearing community.

“Hopefully we can learn what we can do to ease some of the gaps between the hearing and Deaf communities,” she says.

The World Through Deaf Eyes: A Talk of Inclusion and Accessibility will be held in the Stern Center Ballroom at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. The event is free and open to the public. The CofC Sign Language Club meets at 7 p.m. every Wednesday in Maybank Hall.

Photos and video by Darren Price