Tips for Getting Through the Holidays with a Hearing Loss

Posted by: Staff Writer on Nov. 19, 2012

Ah, the yuletide season. Where simple statements like "will you please pass the cranberry sauce?" amount to communication faux pas when uttered (or signed) across a large dining table. Holidays are notoriously awkward enough for hearing people, let alone the deafies who brave this tradition annually. It's a wonder that deafies (in non-signing families) bother to pack their bags for the holidays at all.

Just remember: Mom's homemade turkey cranberry stuffing! Better yet, ask if you can help out in the kitchen (main courses if you're savvy, or dishes if you're food-challenged). It takes the edge off the social pressure to keep up with group conversation, keeps your thumbs busy versus twiddling, and everyone will herald the fruits of your shared culinary labors.

Re-educate, re-educate, re-educate: Never mind that when you were born (or got a childhood bout with meningitis), your extended family probably got the memorandum about your deafness. They probably scratched their heads and wondered how to deal with this. But behold ... decades later, some still manage to overlook these pertinent details. “Oh goodness dear, I keep forgetting. You seem to do so well in life!” they’ll exclaim with a slap to their own forehands. Also, if they're getting old, they're going to forget things. Reminders help.

Play to your family's culture: Older Asian generations are reserved, and disabilities (or shall we say "uniquely abledness") continue to be a bit of a hush-hush matter in the Eastern cultures. Without rocking the boat, find a way to highlight your unique needs. Jewish families are known to be direct in their communication - not skirting the issue whatsoever. Use this to your advantage by making accessibility needs clear. Got a good ol' Southern-style family? Someone (possibly the matriach) will likely say Grace beforehand. Use that time to a ask a personal favor of “communication ease” from the powers above.

Find a familiar ally, and sit next to him or her: While the relatives are railing about politics or discussing their recent ski trip, you may wish you had a PowerPoint with bullet points detailing every topic. Group conversation switches fast and furiously, and interjecting “what” at each turn is exhausting. Maybe you’ve got a patient cousin who takes notes, or a sibling who can sign. Be friends – not just family – with that person.

No ally? Try not to commune with Siri, or a seventh glass of Zinfandel: For hearing and deaf folks alike, it’s a tempting survival technique to bond with technology or too much therapy-wine. You may want to ask Siri very serious questions like “how do I escape my dysfunctional family at (address) without being seen or heard?” Remember that you’re only going to be with family for a relatively short time period. Try to make the most of it, just by being “present”.

Get your groove on at company holiday parties: Most of these parties allow you to bring a plus-one. Invite your deaf-friendly sweetheart, or (for singletons) a good pal who can sign. If there are dances or gift-exchanges, get involved and remember to have fun!

Got any new babies or toddlers in your family tree? There's nothing like a little cooing-based, non-verbal bonding with the bambino to make you feel like you're making the familia connection. Jr. doesn't care if you understand his incoherent babbles, anyway (yet). Treasure the moment before s/he's a mile-per-minute motormouth and use the opportunity to teach Jr. a few words in sign.

Weigh the odds of excusing yourself early: Ah, this is an etiquette toughie that would challenge Betty Post herself. Speechreading your heavily mustached Uncle Leo and your eternally mumbling Aunt Grace is such a chore, isn't it? Especially when they forget to make eye contact. When you were young, you could have gotten away with doodling on napkins, climbing under the table to play in your imaginary forest, or throwing a boredom tantrum. As an adult, things change. In the Deaf Community, leaving without saying goodbye is considered the pinnacle of rudeness.

Have a list of polite excuses at your disposal:

"I've got to get going soon, training for a half-marathon and need to burn off this delicious sauce!"

"Does anyone need help cleaning up the dishes? I've got to leave soon but I'd love to put these in the dishwasher before I go."

“My childhood friend is in town and wants to catch up tonight – I’ve got to get going, but thank you so much for this meal.”

Worst comes to worse, there’s the eternal excuse we’ve been using for years: “Oh hey, Christmas Story is on! Want to join me?”

What about you, folks? What are YOUR survival techniques for the holidays? If we’ve missed any must-try tips, please let us know in the comments below!


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