Signing Santa Says the Landscape is Changing (as told to him by his elf…) – Cochlear Implants and ASL

cochlear implants, ASL, deaf culture, sign language

Signing Santa at Deptford Elks Lodge

by Dr. Daniel Swartz, CI, CT, SC:L, ED:K-12, EIPA

Small children, and those who believe in Santa, look away. You were warned.

The secret is out. I, Daniel Swartz, am Signing Santa for 360 Translations. With the help of the Deptford and Millville (New Jersey) Elks, we threw Signing Santa parties for area children. We also paid visits to Durand Academy (Woodbury, New Jersey), and the Swift School in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. I had lots of fun being Signing Santa. And none of it would have been possible without the help of many volunteers, as well as a few staff at 360 Translations (Patrice, Empoy, and Kimmi). We all had a good time, and it was a lot of hard work. We will all be back next year, 2017, bigger and better than ever.

But what does that have to do with the title of this article (…landscape is changing…)? Well, I have been acting as Signing Santa for over 20 years now. First in Maryland, and now in New Jersey. Over the years, the demographics of the children who visit me has changed dramatically. Back in the early days in Maryland, we held most of our Signing Santa events in Frederick, Maryland, near the school for the Deaf there (Maryland School for the Deaf). This was in the early 1990s, and very few children had cochlear implants. All kids were avid signers. But things have changed over the years. It has been a gradual change, and I haven’t really taken that much notice of it.  But my son has.

According to an Elf

See, my son is Hermogenes (Empoy) Swartz, one of our elves, and the billing clerk at 360 Translations. He is also deaf. He does not have a cochlear implant, and he signs. As we were driving home from one of our Signing Santa engagements (none of the ones listed above – let me make that very clear), Empoy seemed very down and out. I sensed it (you know how a parent senses those things, right?). I asked him what’s wrong? “Nothing.” Oh come on, you can’t fool me, I know that something is bothering you. What is it? “Nothing.” Okay, I will pull over the car and park it until you tell me what’s wrong. Then he unleashed! He was very sad, troubled, and angry that, in his words “The Deaf Community and Deaf Culture are dying.” He went on to say that most of the kids we saw had cochlear implants, and not a single one of them could sign. The best they could manage was rudimentary fingerspelling. Empoy was very upset. Empoy was right about their signing ability, but I don’t know if he is right about the forecast for the Deaf Community and Deaf Culture…?

Now mind you, I have nothing against cochlear implants. I am not deaf, but I am hard of hearing (stemming from a car accident in 2003). But I have always had the philosophy “live and let live.” A person has to do what works for them and their children/family. I am not in their shoes. There but for the grace of God go I. You know all of the euphemisms. I remember when I was younger, and a bit more militant in my thinking, that I was pretty much with the crowd-swell when it came to cochlear implants – they were the work of the devil. When I taught at an Interpreter Training Program (more than one, actually), I would always make it a point to show the film “Sound and Fury,” a documentary on how different families were facing hearing loss in their children. To me, at the time, I considered the film a shining example of the repression of the Deaf Community. But now, over the years, I am less militant about cochlear implants, and have replaced that with being very militant about Deaf Rights and advocacy.

Deaf ≠ Defective

My son is deaf. My spouse is deaf. I live in pretty much a deaf world. The only ones in my house that are not deaf are my dogs, Hope and Jake. I take that back – Hope, in her old age, has lost most of her hearing and is losing her sight. So it’s just Jake and me, and I’m hard of hearing. I have been a part of the deaf world for more than 30 years. It is a part of who I am. I felt (and still feel) Empoy’s pain. I tried to explain, as best I could, that things are changing, but it is our job to make sure that the heritage of Deaf Culture, and the language we use (ASL), is preserved for all times. Empoy feels the trend of audism, the notion that those who can hear are superior, and those who can’t are defective. My son is not defective. My spouse is not defective. The many deaf people I know are not defective. No more so than any hearing person.

Change can be very difficult.  Sometimes a hug helps.  At least it helps temper the pain.  Maybe the inevitable.  I just don’t know…

signing santa hug cochlear implant deaf culture asl

Signing Santa hugs Matthew Thompson

2 replies
  1. Pat Mccracken
    Pat Mccracken says:

    Signing Santa Says the Landscape is Changing (as told to him by his elf…) – Cochlear Implants and ASL. I, totally agree with Dan`s message. I do not know what to say about this. I have nothing against Cochlear Implants. We shall see within next twenty years how kids are doing without signing and not using an interpreter. Quite honest, I have seen it myself in the classroom many times, and they are doing quite well without looking at their interpreter. Shocking, yes!

    • admin
      admin says:

      Thank you for your comments, Pat. I don’t know what the future holds. But I think we need to be open to change and try not to be judgmental of others. – Daniel Swartz


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