Silent Sleigh and Mandela Controversy

This year's Silent Sleigh event was held at the Air National Guard Base in Fresno.
December 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
This year's Silent Sleigh event was held at the Air National Guard Base in Fresno. It gave more than two hundred deaf or hard of hearing children from throughout the Central Valley their own special chance to see and " talk" to Santa.

Michelle Bronson is the Executive Director of the Dear and Hard of Hearing Service Center. Through an interpreter she told Action News, "It really is important because for all other children, they can hear they can go to other malls and shopping complexes and tell Santa what they want for Christmas. And that's what kids look forward to every holiday season. But for deaf and hard of hearing children they are not able to tell Santa who doesn't sign, so for Christmas it is devastating for many children and that's why we host this type of event."

This is the 27th year for the event. Many of the volunteers helping out are deaf and hard of hearing college students like Albert Cruz who have fond memories of this event when they were little. "I felt, oh this is the real Santa Claus he's going to be coming at night to give me presents and it made me very excited and looking forward to Christmas."

Santa and the kids are communicating through American Sign Language. As Bronson explains, it's a unique language. "We do use grammar, body language we have specific nuances to our language and everything is used to make a point, that would be the same thing to people who can hear, vocal inflection, tone. We use expressions to show that, and again, it's a visual language and some people are not accustomed, quite to the differences in languages."

Sign language is in the world spotlight following the controversy over the use of an apparently fake deaf translator during the funeral services for former South African President Nelson Mandela.

"I do understand it is causing an uproar all over the world, within the deaf and hard of hearing communities because it does look bad. So I think it really was disappointing for our community that he was put on the news without verification of his skills. " Bronson said.

But no verification was needed here. Both Santa and Mrs. Claus are certified in American Sign Language, and it these children, quietly made it clear what they want on their Christmas list.


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