Make your Christmas dinner table deaf-friendly

Published: 1 December 2020

Find out how "Dinner Table Syndrome" can lead to a sense of social isolation for people with hearing loss, and the simple but important adjustments that can help

An article published on the RNID website in November 2020 has highlighted the challenges faced by deaf people in social situations, including around the dinner table (known as "Dinner Table Syndrome"), and the simple but important adjustments that can help.

Photo of a Christmas dinner table

"Dinner Table Syndrome" can leave people with hearing loss feeling isolated, anxious and embarrassed, and may even deter them from attending social occasions.

Trying to follow conversations (through a combination of lip-reading and attending to body language, facial expressions etc) in noisy, hectic environments is exhausting and frustrating, and can take much of the pleasure out of social encounters. 

"Imagine you are sitting around the table with 10 people, all chatting about what they watched on TV the previous night. But instead of speech coming out of each mouth, each sentence is a separate text message bubble being released into the air." (RNID blog, Nov 2020)

Thing that help include:

  1. ensuring there is good lighting, to make it easier to lip-read;
  2. asking the deaf person where they would like to sit, as location can make a big difference to how easily a conversation can be followed;
  3. if someone ask you to repeat something you have said, doing so calmly and using the same intonation;
  4. ensuring that there are opportunities for your guest to take a break from the table or group, perhaps offering to keep them company on a one-to-one basis. (Following conversations in a large group situation can be exhausting and stressful.)

Reflecting on this article and her own experiences of "Dinner Table Syndrome", IHW and Public Health's Lorraine Waddell, who leads on BSL activities within the institute, commented:

"I hope bringing this article to light will encourage people to take the time to read it and maybe start to understand some of the difficulties that having a hearing impairment gives rise to. Hopefully, they will begin to realise that people with a hearing impairment don’t always enjoy a night out in the same way that the "non-hearing impaired" do. Having a hearing impairment can often make me feel anxious, stressed and very nervous. This applies to many aspects of my life, but particularly affects me during work meetings and on social nights/events. I often do not accept social invitations and will provide the person inviting me with an "excuse" as to why I can’t attend. If I do attend, then I try to sit next to someone with "good" hearing or someone who understands how I feel. This makes me feel shielded as they can help me when I miss out on the conversation. I hope that by people reading this article, it will encourage others to consider seating arrangements more carefully or just to be inclusive and considerate to those who have a hearing impairment."

Please take the time to read this article, to understand the experiences and feelings of deaf colleagues, friends and family members, and do what you can to reduce the sense of social isolation that can arise out of Dinner Table Syndrome. 

"How 'Dinner Table Syndrome' makes deaf people feel socially isolated"  (RNID 2020)

First published: 1 December 2020