‘AIEA — Santa Claus made a stop in ‘Aiea on Thursday for a special event aimed at giving students with hearing and visual impairments a chance to experience the holiday tradition of sitting on Santa’s lap and sharing their Christmas wishes with him.
Over 150 students from schools statewide participated in the 31st annual “Deaf Santa” event at Pearlridge Center and were able to converse with Santa using American Sign Language.
“It makes them feel like anybody else,” Angel Ramos, principal of the Hawai‘i School for the Deaf and the Blind. “Seeing people can talk to Santa, our deaf students – when they go to him in person – can communicate with him and ask for their Christmas gifts.”
Students with visual impairments participated in the “Santa Cane To Town” event, where they rode a holiday train around the mall and went to the movies with special headsets that provided audio descriptions of the movie “Trolls Band Together.” The students also had an opportunity to pose for photos with Santa.
The events were organized in partnership with the HIDOE Office of Student Support Services, Pearlridge Center and the ASL program at Kapi‘olani Community College. Southwest Airlines sponsored airfare for neighbor island students.
"Kids need representation, they need inclusion, they need to feel like they can relate to Santa and know that their wishes are being seen and registered,” said Jan Fried, an American Sign Language professor at Kapi‘olani Community College, who has helped organize the event over the past three decades.
The event also featured holiday-themed musical performances from school groups and a magic show in American Sign Language.
“It’s amazing and every year it’s just great to be a part of something like this,” said Maka Ka‘ahanui-Kuala, who flew in from Kīhei with her husband Jerome Kuala and 3-year-old son Atlas for the event. “He always looks forward to this time of year.”