Rachel Coleman was featured in a New York Daily News article last week. The article is ‘Sign language singer nabs Emmy nom,’ written by Rosemary Black. I have also pasted the article below. Hope you enjoy!
Sign language singer nabs Emmy nom
Thursday, May 8th 2008, 4:00 AM
Rachel Coleman founded “Signing Time” after learning her daughter was deaf.
Just one month after Leah Coleman’s birth in 1996, the hospital where she’d been born began mandatory newborn hearing screenings. It was too late for Leah, who spent the first 14 months of her life in a soundless world. Then her parents, Rachel and Aaron, learned that she was profoundly deaf – and Rachel reacted by putting down her guitar and forsaking the folk rock band she loved so much. Desperate to communicate with her daughter but having no knowledge of sign language as she had never known anyone who was deaf, she learned American sign language and taught it to Leah.
A decade later, through her “Signing Time” music CDs, DVDs and on PBS stations around the country, she’s teaching sign language to millions of children, many with normal hearing. Last week, Rachel, host of “Signing Time” and the creator of all its original songs, was nominated for an Emmy Award.
“I didn’t believe it,” Coleman says. “I asked someone to call and double-check that it was really for me.”
The 35th annual Daytime Entertainment Emmy awards – her nomination is for “Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series” — will be broadcast live on June 20 from Hollywood.
Rachel’s triumphant trip to Tinseltown was a long time coming, and marked in spots by plenty of heartbreak – and plenty of exhilaration and gratitude, too.
Though she and Aaron worked tirelessly to broaden Leah’s world by teaching her sign language, it wasn’t until four years after Leah’s birth that “Signing Time” became a reality. The family had moved to Los Angeles to be close to Rachel’s sister, Emilie, mother of a toddler named Alex. Leah and Alex both knew sign language, and they were best friends. On the soccer field, Alex would sign what Leah needed. Rachel Coleman felt that it was essential for even non-hearing impaired kids to know sign language, and she volunteered to teach a story hour with sign language at a local LA preschool once a month.
Before long, the opportunity to make a video to teach kids sign language came along, and Rachel composed a variety of appealing songs for it. Her sister Emilie helped out, and Emilie’s son Alex and Leah starred in the show. It soon became a family affair, with Rachel’s father, himself a composer, volunteering to score it for free. More shows followed, and the Signing Time products began to sell briskly on amazon.com. The songs are lively and fun, the topics range from eating to manners to playing outside, and kids under age four are quickly spellbound by them. (My three year old, who was adopted from China at 21 months and who has a repaired cleft lip and palate and thus is speech delayed, is entranced by them.)
A few years after “Signing Time” was catching on across the nation, Rachel Coleman got pregnant, and discovered eight weeks before she was due that the baby had spina bifida. Fetal surgery to repair the defect gave the couple hope that all would be okay with their baby, but Lucy was born two months early, with cerebral palsy.
The doctors told the Colemans that she was profoundly retarded and that she would never speak. They continued to work on “Signing Time,” and as they were finishing up one DVD and watching the edits, Lucy signed “More.”
“It was amazing that her first communication was in her sister’s language,” Coleman recalls. “Her next sign was ‘water,’ and though it wasn’t perfect, we knew what she wanted.”
Lucy is now nearly eight, mainstreamed in the second grade, and loves to sing. “She is a brilliant little girl,” Coleman says. “If we had believed that doctor and not signed with her, she would have been locked in that body and not communicating. Now, she speaks beautifully.”
Leah, meanwhile, is at the top of her fifth grade class (she skipped a grade), won a spelling bee last year, and has read all the Harry Potter books. The family moved from Los Angeles back to Salt Lake City, where their extended family lives.
Teaching her two daughters to sign “showed me that sign language isn’t just for hearing impaired kids, it is for all kids. It’s a way for a child to say, I actually am in here and I can figure things out,” Coleman says.
Last year, the two sisters (with the help of their dad, who is Signing Time’s CEO and Rachel’s husband, who is the cameraman) made 12 Signing Time DVDs and are working on two more. They partner with PBS stations around the country to air “Signing Time,” and they also have books and flashcards. Several “Baby Signing Time” DVDs are also available. Rachel is excited about her Emmy nomination, but whether she gets the award or not, she feels like a winner already.
“First, I really am a mom of two incredible girls,” she says. “When I am performing, it is just as though I am talking to my kids. I love it. A lot of moms in my situation might not even be able to get out of bed in the morning, but I am making a huge impact on how families communicate.”