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Roger Williams and his wife, Sherry, have six children, including four adopted children who are deaf.
Roger Williams and his wife, Sherry, have six children, including four adopted children who are deaf.

Leading man: Ph.D. student is an advocate for the hearing-impaired

During his first foray into the real world, young Roger Williams was determined to try acting.

"My overriding goal is to make sure ... deaf people have access to all the services they need."

When he didn't get a part in a play at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he was majoring in social work, he walked across the street and tried out for a play at the National Institute for the Deaf.

He got the part.

Then he got a crash course in sign language.

"I didn't know anything about sign language," Williams, a Ph.D. student in social work at the University of South Carolina says, laughing at the memory. "I learned by immersing myself in the deaf community at the Institute, and I was able to sign in the play."

Addressing neglected needs
Many years now into his career, Williams is a certified sign language interpreter, a licensed social worker, an advocate for the deaf, and the director of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

And the deaf community has found an identity as the Deaf Community, though one that still needs strong supporters like Williams.

"My love was always mental health," he says. "The opportunity to start up a program like the Deaf Services Program was a dream job. Around the world, the needs of the Deaf Community have been so neglected by the system.

"My overriding goal is to make sure that in every state, deaf people have access to all the services they need. Although South Carolina has one of the better programs, it could be better."

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