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December 3, 2003

Signing Santa delights deaf children

From: Dallas Morning News, TX - Dec 3, 2003

By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

PLANO – Long before Bailey Mendoza, 8, leaped onto Santa's lap, she told him about her big sister, her brother and explained why the family didn't have their tree up yet.

She spoke with her hands.

Much like Kriss Kringle delighted a small girl in Miracle on 34th Street by speaking her native Dutch, a signing Santa and Mrs. Claus thrilled 140 hearing-impaired children Tuesday at The Shops at Willow Bend. Bailey's enthusiastic conversation was one of many pre-lap talks, with sign language making the chats easy, even from afar.

"You'll see the light in their eyes," said Buster Bramall, a volunteer signing Santa for nearly 30 years. "Santa is able to talk to them one-on-one. There's no, 'Tell Santa this or that.' They can tell Santa themselves."

Children – who would eventually say they had been mostly good this year – stood on tiptoe and craned their necks to see Santa and Mrs. Claus (Stella Ashley of Dallas, also a volunteer).

"Is Santa deaf?" signed one child waiting in line.

Bailey, a second-grader at Lawrence Elementary in Mesquite, signed to Santa and Mrs. Claus from her spot in line that her family hadn't put up their tree yet because they were moving. It was her mom's idea.

"Good idea," replied Mrs. Claus.

When Bailey finally had her official time with Santa, she asked for "real" makeup. None of that play stuff. And pink shoes "because I'm a girl."

Older children, many who came to sing in the Lawrence Elementary signing choir – a mix of hearing and deaf children – said they were surprised to see that Santa was so proficient.

"I thought Santa was only hearing," signed 12-year-old Devon Harris of Mesquite.

Second-grader Hugo Mejia, 8, told Santa he wanted a book and a jingle bell. The educational request prompted screams of "yes, yes" from his teacher, Nina Boswell. "Hugo wants a book," she enthusiastically told her students.

The trickiest part of the job, Mr. Bramall said, is figuring out signs for brand name toys. Spiderman, for example, is signed by simulating web-shooting, not signing spider and man. Video game signs are similar to holding a controller.

Before the children arrived, he wondered if any would ask for a Hokey Pokey Elmo. He needed to figure out the sign.

"There's going to be a sign for that," he said. "I just don't know what it is."

This was the second year that Mr. Bramall appeared as Santa at The Shops at Willow Bend. Last year, about 30 children attended. The mall bused the children to Plano, and Chick-fil-A fed them.

When she's not helping Santa, Ms. Ashley works as a professional interpreter for the hearing impaired. Mr. Bramall works at the Lena Pope Home in Fort Worth, which provides preventive and rehabilitative aid for children.

Both he and Ms. Ashley grew up with deaf parents, and though neither is deaf, they learned to sign at an early age.

"Santa Claus is supposed to be for everyone," Ms. Ashley said. "If you don't have one that signs, he's not for everyone."

©2003 Belo Interactive