My daughter's best friend, Taylor, is a remarkable young lady. She has been paying her own bills for a number of years, is supporting herself through nursing school, has been involved in numerous activities, and loves deeply. She is a Native American, an A-student, and a CODA – a child of deaf adults.
Taylor’s mother was born deaf. Her father fell down a flight of steps as an infant and lost his hearing. She has four older siblings and two younger siblings. According to her mom, Taylor picked up American Sign Language (ASL) quicker than any of the others and has been fluent in it since she was little. My daughter and I have learned basic ASL over the years from Taylor to help us better communicate, and my daughter received a minor in ASL from Clemson this spring to advance her knowledge of ASL and deaf culture.
Taylor’s mother can speak some, so I can better communicate with her as she signs compared to her father, who only signs. Many of the signs portray their associated words so they are relatively easy to learn. There are many words that do not always follow that logic, though. Knowing the ASL alphabet has helped me communicate words I don’t know when talking to her mom.
However, the first parent I met was Taylor's dad at the Rock Hill Youth Council when both girls had been nominated during their middle school years. This was a special honor as the role provides young adults leadership and volunteer opportunities in the community. Taylor’s dad sat quietly while the director spoke to the parents describing the role of the Youth Council and what was expected of the participants. Then they passed out some forms for the parents to complete. That is when I noticed Taylor and her dad arguing in ASL at the side of the room.
How did I know they were arguing? Their hand movements were sharp and their facial expressions were intense. I had no clue at that time what they were disputing, but I could tell neither was happy. A few minutes later, I spoke to Taylor to check on things. She said her dad was bored because he couldn't understand what was happening and felt he did not need to be there. He wanted to go home and she was begging him to stay. He felt he did not belong there.
Fast forward a few years to the girls' high school graduation. Taylor was class president and therefore gave one of the commencement speeches. It was also a special day because it was her dad's birthday. Taylor gave a typical graduation speech, reminiscing over memories the class had experienced and anticipating future successes to come; she signed the speech for her parents the whole time. She ended it with a special “Happy Birthday Daddy” and “I Love You.” During the ceremony, ASL interpreters stood in the general area in front of Taylor's family and signed the name of every student that crossed the stage, including Taylor’s name. Needless to say, her dad never felt the urge to leave that day and stayed until the very end.
Rebecca Bowyer, PE, is Director of Engineering at Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority, a public non-profit utility located in the beautiful low country of South Carolina that serves over 63,000 retail customers, 8 wholesale customers, and 4 military installations. Becca, as she is known, is a graduate of Clemson University with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a master’s degree in Environmental Systems Engineering. She is a licensed engineer in South Carolina and North Carolina and has over 30 years of experience in the water and wastewater industry working in both the public and private sectors. Becca is involved in several professional organizations and currently serves as the Chair of the South Carolina AWWA Water Loss Committee.