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American Sign Language and Santa Claus

Author: Disabled World

Published: 2013-12-16

Synopsis and Key Points:

The holiday season is upon us once again, yet there are many children who are deaf or hearing impaired who have never had a conversation with Santa Claus.

Main Digest

Hearing impairments affect 17% of adults in America, approximately 36 million people, as well as around 2-3 out of every 1,000 children who are born either deaf or hard-of-hearing.

American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language; through signing, a person's brain processes linguistic information through their eyes. The shape, placement and movement of a person's hands, as well as their facial expressions and body movements, all play important parts in conveying information. Sign language is not a universal language, each country has its own sign language and regions have dialects - much like the many languages spoken around the globe. Like any spoken language, ASL is one with its own unique rules of syntax and grammar. As with other languages, ASL is a living language that changes and grows as time passes.

ASL is used in America and many parts of Canada. The language is accepted by a number of high schools, colleges and universities in fulfillment of modern and, 'foreign,' language academic degree requirements in America. Just as English has distinct regional dialects, ASL has regional variations in the rhythm of signing, form, and pronunciation. Age and ethnicity also contribute to its variety.

Santa Claus Knows ASL

Chart showing information about American Sign Language
Chart showing information about American Sign Language

The holiday season is upon us once again, yet there are many children who are deaf or hearing impaired who have never had a conversation with Santa Claus like their hearing peers have. Some communities are aware of this and have taken steps to ensure that children with hearing disabilities are not forgotten. This year...

The Scranton School for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Children and Abington Community Library hosted Signing Santa Claus at the Abington Community Library on December 9th. Children enjoyed a story read by Santa Claus in American Sign Language (ASL) and voice interpreted English. Donald E. Rhoten, Chief Executive Officer stated, "We deeply appreciate our partnership with the Abington Community Library in bringing this special visit with Santa to kids of all ages and abilities. Not all deaf and hard of hearing children can go to every mall and directly share their wishes with Santa. This is a great opportunity to break down typical communication barriers and allow the kids to just have fun. It's a big hit every year."

The Scranton School for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing Children and Abington Community Library were not alone this year. Deaf and hard of hearing children were pleased to welcome a special guest at The Forks this year. The historic site invited Santa Claus, who used ASL to speak with deaf and hard of hearing children in their first language. Taylor Cole of The Forks North Portage Partnership said, "The program Signing Santa has been running for over 10 years, so it's really a staple at The Forks. Usually they see around 100 kids a shift, and it's only a four-hour shift."

How Long Has Santa Been Visiting

How long has Santa been visiting children with hearing disabilities? Difficult to say, but in the year 2009, Santa Claus visited the classroom at Springfield Elementary School and greeted students in ASL, something that caused 3-year old Emily Locklear to smile very broadly. In fact, several students were overjoyed to see Santa visit because he had the ability to communicate without speaking a word. The students were in a pre-kindergarten class, one with several students with hearing disabilities.

It was the first time Ken Renfroe, who is hearing impaired, performed as Santa for the students. He was accompanied by his hearing impaired wife, Anna. Santa asked the students what they wanted for Christmas then sang, 'Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,' and asked other questions, all in ASL.

The capability of children to learn ASL needs to be recognized and used to enhance their cognitive, social, academic, and emotional development. Deaf and hard of hearing children need support for a bilingual approach. They must have the right to receive early and full exposure to ASL as a primary language along with English. Studies have shown that when deaf and hard of hearing children are exposed to ASL while young they are provided with the opportunity to reach their full potential.

For deaf and hard of hearing children to fully benefit, people are encouraged to become fluent and skilled ASL users, teachers and interpreters of ASL. Learning ASL is beneficial to everyone from all age groups.

The Demand for Qualified Interpreters

Chart showing areas where American Sign Language interpreters are needed
Chart showing areas where American Sign Language interpreters are needed

The joy children with hearing disabilities experienced from interacting with a Santa Claus who has the ability to use ASL to communicate with them is priceless. The experience also highlights a need, the need for qualified ASL interpreters all year around. The demand for qualified interpreters exists in a number of settings including:

If you are a novice ASL signer, or if you have just started to take ASL classes, you are not ready to become an interpreter yet. Interpreting also involves more than just signing. An interpreter needs to accurately convey messages between two different languages. Interpreting is a skill that takes time to develop.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing deserve to have interpreters who know what they are doing and do it well. A qualified interpreter is a person who can, both expressively and receptively, interpret in a manner that is accurate, effective and impartial while using any necessary specialized vocabulary. Interpreters who struggle with their own expressive and receptive sign skills are hard to understand and do not have the ability to convey their client's messages accurately. The situation does not benefit anyone. People who are deaf or hard of hearing become frustrated and those who can hear tend to form an impression that is unfavorable of the experience. In the meantime, the interpreting profession gets short-changed.

Interpreters are tested in regards to their expressive and receptive signing, sign-to-voice, as well as voice-to-sign skills. People are encouraged to take as many classes and workshops as they can to increase and improve their skills. Practicing with deaf and hard of hearing people often to improve your receptive and expressive skills is highly recommended. Challenge yourself by finding a number of deaf or hard of hearing people who have signing skills and speed that challenge you and ask them for their honest assessment of your skills. If they believe you have what it takes to become an interpreter, it is worth your time and effort to receive training in interpreting and go through the certification process.

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