With all the sights and sounds of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget that not everyone experiences holiday gatherings in the same way.
According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, approximately 1 in 20 Minnesotans has hearing loss to some degree. One estimate predicts that 50% of families will host at least one person with hearing loss at their holiday table. The holidays can be frustrating and even isolating for these loved ones, especially when they don’t feel included in the celebration.
These practical suggestions will help you host a hearing-friendly holiday, making it enjoyable for all your guests.
- Minimize background noise—Holiday music or a blaring television in the background can make it difficult to hear. Be sure to keep the volume low. Consider having boisterous football fans enjoy the game in a different room.
- Skip the mood lighting—A well-lit room helps those with hearing loss see the mouths and facial expressions of those speaking. Pay attention to any glare from the windows that may impact their ability to see everyone at the table.
- Pay attention to seating—Consider seating the individual with hearing loss at the head of the dinner table or middle of the table, making it easier for them to see all the guests’ faces. Even better, round tables enable easy viewing for everyone. When setting your table, think about shorter centerpieces to avoid blocking sightlines.
- Capture attention—Look directly at the person with hearing loss, speaking to them so they can see your mouth and facial expressions. To get their attention, gently touch them on the hand, arm, or shoulder.
- Speak clearly—Be deliberate, speaking clearly. Be careful to project, but don’t shout. Avoid gum. Keep your hands away from your face when speaking. Avoid interruptions that make following a conversation more difficult.
- Rephrase, don’t repeat—Instead of repeating the exact words, try rephrasing. It’s entirely possible when someone with hearing loss mentions they can’t hear you, they may be having trouble deciphering a specific word or phrase. Selecting different words or restating your thoughts often helps. In addition, this approach draws less attention to the individual with hearing loss by keeping the conversation more natural. For those uneasy or self-conscious about hearing loss, this will be appreciated.
- Be attentive—Keep an eye on individuals with hearing loss and bring them back into the conversation if you notice they are especially quiet or withdrawn.
- Take turns—Consider taking turns speaking at the dinner table, asking everyone to go around the table and share a memory or highlight. Multiple conversations are very challenging to follow for someone with hearing loss.
- Find quiet areas for conversation—Seek out the individual with hearing loss to have a one-on-one conversation away from the festivities, in a quiet corner or room.
- Ask how you can help—Be considerate and discrete, pulling aside the individual with hearing loss to ask if there’s anything you can do to make their visit easier. By demonstrating understanding and compassion, you’ll be an example of the true meaning of the holiday spirit.