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9 Tips for a More Inclusive Holiday Gathering

Author: Hannah Torres

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Technology Specialist from Access Vine

[Image description: Woman looking at the table surrounded by people raising their glasses. The 5 people sitting at the table are smiling. The woman is not showing her face, but the back of her head. The setting is outdoors, the sun is shining through the two lines of trees. It's a holiday feast. The wood table is full of plated food and drinks. The picture shows that the woman is being left out of the group.]

Tis the season! If you have a deaf or hard-of-hearing family member or friend joining your next holiday gathering, congratulations - you have the opportunity to get creative with communication!

Although “dinner table syndrome” is a phenomenon that some deaf and hard of hearing people face daily, the holidays are incredibly stressful with large family gatherings. We must acknowledge the trauma of this issue for so many. Those who have never experienced dinner table syndrome may assume it’s no big deal and wish they had the “luxury” of tuning out their “weird uncle” or their family’s political arguments. However, constantly being left out of conversations often leads to feelings of severe isolation. Below, we will propose some solutions for communication at holiday gatherings.

These methods and suggestions do not provide 100% access to communication. They should not give families or holiday hosts the false sense that everyone is satisfied with this level of access for the rest of their lives. Always ask your deaf or hard-of-hearing guests how they would prefer you to communicate with them and how you can make your time together more meaningful.

1. Have everyone write what they are thankful for ahead of time.

Many families like to go around the table and have each person name what they are thankful for. Having everyone write out their gratitude beforehand allows your guest to read and follow along with the discussion a little more closely. You could even turn this idea into a game and have everyone guess who wrote each statement of gratitude. For example, the family guesses that Uncle John is the one who wrote, “I’m grateful my football team is doing well this year” because he wears a jersey like it’s his uniform.

2. Determine more topics for discussion ahead of time and have everyone write their answers.

Similar to the activity in the first suggestion, you can put some fun, conversation-starting questions in a bowl and then make sure your guest can read the question asked. You can ask questions such as “what was your favorite movie this year?” You can also turn this into a game of charades to make it even more fun.

3. If you are having your guest help in the kitchen, consider setting out the ingredients and cookware ahead of time and printing the recipe.

When your hands are stuck in raw meat, or you have to watch what you’re cooking, having your recipe and ingredients out makes it easier to point or direct others in the kitchen rather than yelling over your shoulder about where to find the seasoning. Inviting your guest to help out in the kitchen is another way to practice inclusion, as it fosters a sense of community, and they may be a great cook to boot!

4. Make sure that any decorative centerpieces are low so your guest(s) can see each other.

You’ll avoid the classic “game” of having your guests try to pick which direction to peer around a tall vase to have a conversation. Eye contact is essential for deaf and hard-of-hearing people when having a conversation.

5. Look for open-captioned showings of any movies you plan to see at the theater and make sure your TV has captions turned on.

Click this link to find open-captioned showings of movies at your local theater if you’re still an in-person moviegoer. If you are streaming movies from home now as times have changed, check the settings or even your remote to find the CC feature to turn on captions.

6. Play games that are “deaf-friendly” or accessible to those who are hard of hearing.

There are many fast-moving card games where talking to each other would be a distraction, so any of those would be a safe bet. If you have a favorite stack of games, consider whether they are already accessible or how you could modify them if needed. See some of our suggestions below:

  • Games that only require or “let” you use one word (great opportunity to practice fingerspelling):

  • Code Names (“Pictures” edition or the original)

  • Dixit

  • Games that do not “allow” verbal (signed OR spoken) between players:

  • The Mind

  • Mysterium

  • Tranquility

  • Magic Maze

  • Others:

  • Dutch Blitz

  • Uno

  • Skipbo

7. Use a speech-to-text app.

Ask your guest if they would like your group or family to use a speech-to-text or live transcribe app.

  • Ava is an app that color codes each person’s voice and words if everyone downloads the app and if phones are positioned to pick up each voice. There is a 15-day free trial, and the least expensive upgrade, The Community Subscription Plan, is $14.95 a month or $119.40 a year.

  • is another app that will transcribe speech. You can get 300 minutes a month for free or upgrade to a paid plan for more time.

  • Apple devices also have live captioning that can caption external conversation or audio content from inside the device (music, podcasts, or videos playing on the phone). If you need help setting up this feature, feel free to reach out to us. Google has a similar feature on most Android devices.

8. Repeat yourself when asked.

If your guest asks you to repeat yourself, don’t put them off until later or dismiss them. It’s not cool to say something like “I’ll tell you later” or “it’s not important.” You may not intend to cause harm, but brushing your guest off this way can be hurtful and frustrating. Either repeat the statement verbally or write it down on paper or in your phone’s notes app.

9. When your celebration is over, ask your guest what you can do to make things even better next time.

Your guest may give you more helpful communication tips after this round of holiday celebrations or make recommendations on your cooking if you’re not careful with the turkey.

Most deaf and hard-of-hearing people spend each day fighting for access, so make the holidays a time of reprieve as much as possible. Sometimes the best gift is simply a level playing field (and you can’t get that on Black Friday).


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