Christmas is just days away. It’s a time to gather around the dinner table and share stories from the past year, but it’s often dreaded by deaf and hard of hearing people.
‘Dinner table syndrome’ is a term used by deaf people as they are perpetually left out of conversations that are had at the table. Around 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, and not all families learn British Sign Language (BSL) to support their child’s communication needs. Even at small festive gatherings, deaf and hard of hearing people can struggle to get involved in conversations and feel like they fade into the background.
“I didn’t really enjoy the meal, I felt rubbish at the end and kind of homesick”
Sophia, BSL user.
The spectrum of deafness is vast, with many people having different communication requirements or desires for group situations. We asked profoundly deaf and hard of hearing people and their families to offer their tips to make this Christmas dinner the most inclusive one yet. Raising deaf awareness and empowering deaf people to tell others how they are feeling will leave dinner table syndrome in 2021.
Remind your family
Sometimes your family can forget to include you in the conversation or interpret what other people are saying. This can be because they are trying to be included in a noisy environment that is making it hard for them to hear one another. It’s important to call this out to ensure inclusivity in the conversation.
That said, it’s important not to put pressure on the deaf person by putting them at the centre of attention as this can make them feel just as uncomfortable as being left out! Finding out what is best for the deaf person is the ultimate question to ask ahead of dinner.
Dinner games – take turns
Playing games with friends and family is a classic Christmas tradition, but this can sometimes be difficult for deaf people. Ensure games are accessible for deaf guests: remember, games that involve shouting the answer are not appropriate for many deaf people! If someone at the table can sign, take turns being involved in the game so that they can interpret for you.
Mark, a deaf BSL user, debunks the myth that deaf people love charades.
“People think charades is great for deaf people, but it’s not really as people need to shout our the answers, and it’s impossible to keep up. I prefer board games or games that involve turn taking or visual games, like drawing.”
Consider your seating plan
If only two people at the table can sign, it can be useful for them to sit near each other (opposite each other), so they can communicate easily. Ensure the room has good lighting so that the person can see everyone clearly, especially if they read lips.
Seating arrangements can make a significant difference for the deaf guest as well as making small changes such as turning the music down.
Steven, a profoundly deaf lipreader, says:
“The fewer distractions at the table, the easier it is to communicate and not miss out on too much.”
Empower deaf people and educate hearing
At the start of the meal, remind your guests that deaf and hard of hearing people can feel left out. This will give also deaf people to find the confidence to say this and not accept it as a way of life.
“It’s like we are there, but we’re invisible, which is a horrible feeling”
Joanne, BSL user.
It can also be useful to share some basic tips with people at the table who don’t have experience communicating with deaf people. remind people that they must get the attention of the person they are speaking to first and continue to look at them when they are speaking.
A parent of a deaf child shared her thoughts:
“Imagine being hearing and getting sat at a table with a group of deaf people, how would you go about communicating. Think about how you would feel/react. It’s a great way to put yourself in the shoes of a deaf or hard of hearing person.”
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, from everyone at Deaf Action!