Ottawa's signing Santa giving deaf children gift of inclusion
'It doesn't matter if it's Christmas or any other event, they need to be included'
It's not the first time three-year-old Molly Giroux has seen Santa Claus, but it is the first time she's heard him.
The little girl in bright red glasses was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss when she was still a toddler, and doctors told her parents it would only get worse.
They look at you and go, 'Oh wow, Santa's just like me.' I say, 'Yeah, you and I, we're special.'- Michel David, a.k.a. Santa
About a year ago she underwent surgery and now hears with the aid of cochlear implants — her "ears," as her family calls the devices attached to a little blue headband.
Now she sits beside Santa, staring up at him intently as he removes his hat to show that he, too, wears a hearing aid. Molly turns to look at her parents, Eric and Sarah Giroux, delight written all over her face.
"It's pretty special to see Santa hears the same way Molly hears," Sarah said.
'They need to be included'
Don't tell Molly, but Santa is really Michel David.
"I think too many kids grow up ... thinking that I'm all alone," he said. "There's no one else like me in school, or the whole world, and that's wrong. There's so many of us. It doesn't matter if it's Christmas or any other event, they need to be included."
One of the best parts of the job, David says, is when he pulls off his hat.
"You can just see their eyes brighten up. They look at you and go, 'Oh wow, Santa's just like me.' I say, 'Yeah, you and I, we're special.'"
'Beautiful to watch'
The event at Ottawa's Funhaven play park was organized by the Quota Club of Ottawa and Ontario Hands & Voices, a non-profit organization that supports families with children who are deaf or partly deaf. Volunteers from Sign Language Interpreting Associates Ottawa were also on hand.
In this, the event's fourth year, 150 people showed up to see Santa.
Cesare Dambrosio, his wife and three children under 10 — all deaf — drove all the way from Toronto to attend the event.
They've visited Santas at malls before, but struggled to understand what was being said.
"In a mall with no sign language, just lip reading, it's hard," said Dambrosio through an interpreter. "Sometimes the kids will ask me, 'What did he say?' But I can't really tell them."
This visit was different.