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'Signing Santa' communicates with deaf children through sign language

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services in Grand Rapids held their 10th Signing Santa event on Saturday.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Now's the time of year when kids from all over sit on Santa's lap and tell them what they want for Christmas. Some kids, however, need an interpreter to tell Santa just what they want for the holidays. 

That's where Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services in Grand Rapids came in. On Saturday, they held their 10th annual Signing Santa event where deaf children signed to Santa — who is also deaf — what they want for Christmas. 

"Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I said I want a belt," said Harper Lehmann.

There were sign language interpreters available throughout the venue, but many of the children signed back and forth directly with Old St. Nick.

"From my experience, I’ve really enjoyed seeing all of the kids, the deaf and hard of hearing kids be able to have access to communicate with Santa Claus," Santa said. "That really makes them very happy and it makes me feel so happy for them that they’re thankful for this opportunity."

Along with visiting Santa, the first 50 children received gifts. There were also two storytime sessions, holiday crafts, snacks and drinks.

Deb Atwood, executive director for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services in Grand Rapids, said in the first few years the organization held the event, a little girl didn't believe it was Santa at first. Then, she saw Santa signing.

"Her eyes got really huge and all of us volunteers were crying," Atwood recalled. 

She said the child ran right up to Santa, jumped on his lap and the two had a 15-minute conversation — all in sign language.

"That's what it's all about — that these kids have a voice, and their voice is through sign language," Atwood said.

For more information about Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, click here.

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