Santas to be trained to make Christmas inclusive for visually impaired children

Santas and elves in the UK will be trained to make Christmas more inclusive for visually impaired children, including engaging all the senses and clearing their grottos of clutter.

The training is the result of a partnership between sight loss charity Guide Dogs and Ministry of Fun, which has run its Santa School for more than 20 years.

Father Christmas and his helpers will be encouraged to engage all the senses to maximise the experience of the Christmas grotto for children with a vision impairment, as well as describing surroundings, clearing clutter and ensuring a suitable gift is available.

A girl speaks to Father Christmas
(Mike Buck)

“Growing up with partial sight, I did appreciate the visual aspect of Christmas but always felt like I was only getting half the experience,” said Alex Pepper, head of accessibility at Guide Dogs.

“I was always aware I couldn’t see half or most of the decorations on the tree and in cases when I came across big displays, I struggled to appreciate it all as it was simply too much for my eyes to take in.

“I got very nervous when going to grottos as it was often dark and busy when queueing and a lot of the time I couldn’t use the toy I was given because of my sight. I used to love the smell of a real tree at home and often got in trouble for touching the tree, because I liked how it felt.”

Matt Grist, director of Ministry of Fun Santa School, said the school “prides ourselves on providing the best Santas in the land” and welcomed the partnership.

“The Ministry of Fun Santa School is the UK’s only genuine training school for professional Father Christmas performers. We pride ourselves on providing the best Santas in the land, who ensure that the magic of the real Santa is recreated nationwide,” he said.

“To this end we are delighted to partner with Guide Dogs and incorporate their initiative on inclusivity to ensure every single child that meets the great man this year has a truly magical experience.”

Santas and elves in the UK will be trained to make Christmas more inclusive for visually impaired children
(Mike Buck)

Guide Dogs will open an inclusive Christmas grotto this December meanwhile, and is encouraging the public to sign up to its Guiding Stars campaign this festive season.

The campaign encourages people to learn how to guide a person with sight loss, including how to start a conversation and how best to navigate narrow spaces, stairs and public transport.

To find out more, visit www.guidedogs.org.uk/guiding-stars-at-christmas.