The holiday season is often filled with friends and family gatherings. While these celebrations are wonderful, dinner parties, restaurants, or even opening gifts together around the tree, can create an environment that may feel overwhelming and stressful for loved ones with hearing loss.
The good news is that there are simple strategies to make your holiday get-togethers more inclusive and accommodating.
Hearing Loss Communication Tips for the Holidays
Whether you are hosting or a guest, keep the following in mind to ensure a pleasant experience for all.
Create a Quiet Room
If you can, designate a space or area in your home that will be as free from background noise as possible. This space can be used for quieter, one-on-one conversations or for listening breaks. Never forget that it takes a lot of energy and effort for someone with hearing loss to keep up in a noisy environment.
If you know that young children will be present, create a designated play area where they can play freely without cause for concern.
Reduce Background Noise
While Christmas music helps set the holiday mood, if the music is too loud it can leave people straining to hear, especially those with hearing loss.
Music and the television should be at a reasonable volume for the entire gathering but it may be best to turn them off when sitting down to eat. This will help those with hearing loss keep track of the conversation.
Keep the Space Well-Lit and Sight Lines Clear
Candles and large, festive centerpieces are lovely, but they can complicate communication for individuals with hearing loss.
A well-lit room keeps faces illuminated which can help with lip reading and deciphering non-verbal facial expressions, adding richness and context to the conversations.
Similarly, by keeping the sight lines clear, you help all of your guests see the speaker which will track the conversation.
Provide Written Details for Festive Games
If your friends and family enjoy playing board games, party games, or card games during holiday parties, try to make the experience as easy as possible for all participants.
Whenever possible, choose games that do not require a lot of listening and consider something more demonstrative like charades or Pictionary.
For games that require lengthy explanations, provide written instructions and rules for play so that everyone is on the same page.
Be Considerate When Speaking to Someone With Hearing Loss
When you are around people with hearing loss, it is important to be respectful and considerate of their unique needs. Here are a few things you can do to support them at your holiday gathering:
- Face people when you speak to them. This seems obvious, but it is surprising how often we turn away when speaking to someone.
- Get the person’s attention with a gentle tap or subtle wave. Do not shout at the person or clap at them.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Rephrase what you are saying if they did not understand what you said the first time. Avoid shouting or raising your voice as that is likely to further distort what you are saying, especially if the person is wearing a hearing-assisted device.
- Be patient. Try to remain calm and avoid giving up and saying things like “forget it,” or “it isn’t important.”
Use Captioning for Video Calls
Sometimes, it is not possible to get everyone together and video calls are a great way to see and celebrate with loved ones that can’t be present in person.
Popular platforms like Zoom and FaceTime have live caption options that will allow the conversation to appear as text on the screen. This can be beneficial to everyone as different devices (phones, tablets, laptops, PCs) can have different speaker and volume capabilities that make hearing difficult.
Advocate for Yourself
If you experience hearing loss, do not be afraid to speak up for what you need. It may feel awkward, but not everyone may know that you experience hearing loss.
When attending a gathering, ask the host to seat you farthest away from the kitchen or ask that people be seated on your “good side,” if you experience hearing loss on one side only. You may also ask a friend or family member to help you out by filling you in on pieces of the conversation you may have missed.
Creating a Holiday Environment Everyone Can Enjoy
The holidays do not have to be an overwhelming experience for individuals experiencing hearing loss. By following the simple tips laid out above, you can create a holiday environment where everyone can feel welcome and comfortable.