By JW McNay/managing editor
Program to host event for community
Olivia Sanderson remembers communicating with Santa for the first time as a young child and him being able to respond back with sign language.
Sanderson, now a TR American Sign Language student, had this experience at Signing Santa, an event hosted by TCC’s sign language interpreting program that allows deaf children up to the sixth grade to communicate with Santa through sign language, participate in educational activities and meet deaf adults as well as other deaf children.
TR students taking ASL participate by assisting with many of the activities of Signing Santa which includes reading storybooks, playing games and arts and crafts. Sanderson attended the event years ago and is now on the other side as an ASL student helping out.
“For me, as a deaf person, Signing Santa allows kids to know the meaning of Christmas, and then this year, we’re talking about international celebrations,” Sanderson said via interpreter. “And we’re also talking about signs for deaf people from all over the world.”
Each year, Signing Santa has a different theme, and this year it’s “International Holiday Storybook Adventure.” The ASL students’ responsibilities at the event are divided based on which level of ASL class they are taking. Sanderson will be reading a storybook to the children titled “Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas” which discusses the Chinese New Year.
The highlight of the event for many children though is to see and communicate with Santa since most Santas in malls aren’t able to sign back, she said.
“It’s really a big deal for these kids to be able to come and Santa understands them,” Sanderson said. “They don’t need an interpreter. Santa understands them, and they understand Santa. And it’s a really cool thing.”
Around 300 deaf students from schools around North Texas usually attend each year, said Sammie Sheppard, TR sign language interpreting program coordinator, adding that in any given school there may only be a couple of deaf students.
“They’re the only deaf people they know. They’ve never met a deaf adult,” Sheppard said. “And so, to learn there are deaf people all around the world is huge.”
ASL student participants gain practical experience as interpreters at the event and have the chance to give back to the community, she said.
TR instructional assistant Sherrie Bodiford has worked for TCC since 2012 and participated in Signing Santa since starting as well. As one of the deaf adults at the event, she said it’s great for children to see they are not alone and have a chance to build relationships in the community.
“And also, they get to see deaf adults and ‘What does it look like to be a deaf adult?’” she said via interpreter. “And so, I think that’s great exposure for them and in addition for their parents.”
Deaf adults at the event get to be good role models and show both children and parents that someone can be deaf and successful, Bodiford said, adding parents are sometimes surprised when they meet her for the first time.
“And then they’re like, ‘Oh wait, you’re a deaf adult and you have a job with the college?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, I do,’” she said. “So, it gives me an opportunity to explain my work, my life and that I’m married. I have children.”
Signing Santa: International Holiday Storybook Adventure
9 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Arlington Skatium