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These Irish girls performed a sign-language Christmas classic to prove a powerful point.



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Everyone knows the best thing about Christmas is the Christmas songs.

Image via iStock.

“Jingle Bells”? Classic. “Frosty the Snowman”? Timeless. “Feliz Navidad”? You know you secretly love it.

And this holiday season is a perfect time to think about how we can make our favorite traditions accessible to everyone, even people who may not be able to hear all of those festive classics.

That’s why three students from Ireland recently made a sign-language sing-a-long of Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Abbie O’Neill, Amy Durkin, and Joanne O’Donnell, who are students at the Centre for Deaf Studies at Trinity College, donned their finest winter hats and proceeded to jam out to one of the catchiest Christmas classics ever created.

Using only their hands, of course.

The video started off as a class assignment but soon spread far and wide via social media, both inside and beyond the deaf community.

“We’ve got such supportive responses and messages from hearing and deaf people from all around the world,” the three friends wrote in an email.

The video currently has over 200,000 views on Facebook, where hundreds of commenters have shared their admiration for the girls’ efforts.

Check the video out below:

It’s a month till Christmas yo!!
Irish Sign Language performance of Santa Claus is Coming to Town 🙂

Posted by Abbie O’Neill on Friday, November 25, 2016

But this wasn’t just a holly-jolly gesture of inclusion. It was part of a much bigger statement.

Ireland has a deaf and hard-of-hearing population of over 90,000 people, many of whom rely on Irish Sign Language (ISL) to communicate and live their lives. But ISL isn’t currently recognized as an official language by the Republic of Ireland. That means many in the deaf community face tremendous difficulties in schools that don’t cater to their needs or accessing government programs that aren’t required to provide interpreters.

In a broader sense, not recognizing ISL as an official language leads to a much bigger lack of awareness and consideration for the deaf community, too. O’Neill, Durkin, and O’Donnell recall going to see a subtitled film recently. The theater staff forgot to turn on the subtitles until several minutes into the movie. After the movie, they spoke to a deaf couple in the audience about it. The couple “simply laughed — they’re all used to this lack of awareness and indifference from the wider hearing community.”

In a broader sense, not recognizing ISL leads to a much bigger lack of awareness and consideration for the deaf community.

But there is hope on the horizon, in the form of the Irish Sign Language Bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Daly, that would designate ISL as a native and independent language. The bill is quickly gaining momentum.

“The Irish deaf community have been denied equal rights and opportunities for years,” Daly told The Journal. “The impact of this piece of legislation would be truly transformative.”

If and when the bill passes, it will be due in large part to the efforts of Ireland’s deaf community in bringing more attention to the conflict.

So while this viral video might look like just an adorable sing-a-long, it’s actually a lot more.

Thanks to three students, it’s also part of an important mission: improving the lives of thousands and thousands of deaf Irish men and women.

“The Deaf Community in Ireland has been fighting for years to have ISL recognised,” the friends wrote. “We’re just happy that we could bring some awareness to it.”

That alone is a heck of a gift this holiday season.

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