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Inclusive Communication at Family Gatherings

Inclusive Communication at Family Gatherings

Ramadan, Easter, and Passover – are some springtime holidays when extended families and friends often gather over a meal. For family members and guests with hearing loss, social gatherings can be stressful. They can also cause anxiety or animosity for people who are Deaf.  If you are hosting a festive gathering this year, you can make the experience more inclusive by being creative and thinking ahead.

Have a look at the inclusive communication “menu” below for some ideas:

Amuse-bouche (a tiny course to stimulate the appetite)

  • Contact your Deaf or hard of hearing guests to ask how you can make the gathering more accessible.
  • Share the guest list with them.

Soup (the warm, comforting course)

Ensure your guests feel comfortable by letting them know the “rules of communication” throughout the gathering.

  • Get everyone’s attention by flicking the lights
  • Emphasize speaking in a normal voice. There is no need to shout! Hearing devices are set up to normal voice levels; shouting will just distort the words.
  • Discuss the importance of eye contact when speaking
  • When someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing asks, “What?” Do not dismiss their question with, “Never mind,” “Oh, nothing,” or “It’s not important.” Even if you think it is unimportant, let them be the judge. Respectfully take the time to repeat yourself.

Appetizer (choice of small servings to stimulate the desire for the main course)

In anticipation of including everyone in the dinner table conversation, the host must highlight any technology or method that will be used during the gathering. They might even give a quick demonstration of how it works.

  • VRI by DHA On Demand – most Deaf people communicate in American Sign Language (ASL), which is not another form of English; it is an official language and the foundation of Deaf culture with its own grammar, contexts, and rules. Provided the gathering takes place during On Demand hours, an ASL interpreter can be called at a moment’s notice to virtually interpret the conversation between Deaf and hearing guests.
  • If the VRI is not available, family members or guests who know ASL can take turns facilitating communication for guests who are Deaf or hard of hearing
  • Personal FM system– Make sure guests understand the importance of using the FM system to access conversations for your guest who is Deaf or hard of hearing. If necessary, give a quick demonstration on how to properly wear or place the FM microphone.
  • Electronic devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and laptops can facilitate communication between hearing guests and Deaf or hard of hearing guests. Captioning apps are available for download (free and paid). Live captioning means text appears on a screen as words are spoken (Just Google “Live Captioning Apps”).
  • Pocketalker personal amplifier -hard of hearing guests will know how to use the Pocketalker to hear what others are saying better. Speakers may still have to repeat themselves to be understood.
  • Wireless microphone systems such as the Phonak Roger system.
  • Lip reading – not all people who are Deaf and hard of hearing read lips. Lip reading takes years to develop. An estimated 30% of speech sounds are not distinguishable by sight. However, your Deaf or hard of hearing guests may be lip readers.

Depending on your Deaf or hard of hearing guests’ choices of accommodation, your gathering will look a little different.

House Salad (a nutritious mixture of healthy greens and other vegetables)

Here are some tips for creating a healthy atmosphere for conversation:

  • Turn down the noise! Background music, televisions, appliances, pets, plus multiple conversations at once, make it difficult to pick up the sounds of speech. Minimize as many of the “extra” sounds as possible.
  • Nametags and place cards at the table are a terrific way to make the connection between a person’s face and their name when meeting them for the first time.
  • People who are Deaf and hard of hearing understand the need to get their attention to communicate. Polite ways to do this are to tap their shoulder or give a quick hand wave to catch their eye.
  • Natural light can shadow a speaker’s face if their back is facing the window. Position guests, furniture, and window treatments to optimize lighting on individuals’ faces. Avoid seating Deaf and hard of hearing guests facing bright windows.
  • Good lighting is essential to read lips, and see body language, facial expressions, or ASL signs. Try to brighten the areas of your home where you will be entertaining.
  • Make note pads and pens available for communication.

Main Dish

In the midst of the gathering, guests will be more successful at communicating by remembering to:

  • Talk directly to the person, focusing on their face, and not looking at the interpreter.
  • Be patient and be prepared to write things down if you are not being understood or you do not understand.
  • If you are not sure if a Deaf or hard of hearing guest understood you, rephrase your comment, rather than repeating it. If you do not understand what they are saying, ask for clarification until you do.
  • Body language helps to project the meaning of what you are saying. Be animated! Use a lot of facial expressions/gestures.
  • If background noise is distracting you from hearing the conversation, let someone know you are having trouble hearing.

Cheese Course (a brief pause in the meal to enjoy various flavours while finishing the dinner wine)

Breathe!

  • Gatherings, where everyone else is hearing, can be very exhausting and difficult for people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. Discuss an appropriate backup plan when your guest needs a break.
  • Guests who communicate well one-on-one may have a challenging time with two or more speakers, especially if there are many interruptions and interjections.
  • If you are a Deaf or hard of hearing guest, this might be a good time to enlist a friend or family member to be your dinner partner so they can help you catch conversations you might otherwise miss.

Dessert (something sweet served as the final course)

Sweeten the gathering by planning Inclusive activities before or after the meal.

  • Play games that encourage turn-taking and make activities fun for everyone! In contrast, games, where you need to shout out the answer first for points, puts guests who are Deaf and hard of hearing at a disadvantage.
  • People of all ages and abilities can understand each other by doing activities where there is little conversation needed. Puzzles, logic games, craft projects, and many other activities are enjoyable to work on as a group or side-by-side.
  • Use Captions. If a TV is on during a gathering, make sure the closed captioning is turned on. Whether your guests who are Deaf or hard of hearing are watching or not, they will appreciate having access without needing to ask.

If you are hard of hearing or Deaf and you have long been frustrated with family gatherings, consider sharing the “inclusive communication menu” with this year’s hosts. It is more than ok to ask for what you need!

Remember, inclusion is an action.  Sometimes our families and friends need to be challenged to act!

To learn more about how to support your Deaf or hard of hearing family members or friends, contact info@deafandhearalberta.ca

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