Social gatherings: Strategies for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Why social gatherings are difficult for deaf people

Social gatherings are particularly difficult for deaf people. There can be quite a number of distinctly different reasons, which all stem from the fact that groups are distributed around a room and are invariably all talking at the same time.

With unbalanced hearing (i.e without a sense of the direction of sound), the only way one voice can be distinguished from the others is by being louder, and the only way to make it louder is to move nearer the speaker. The situation often makes this impossible and, anyway, one can hardly keep bobbing about every time a new person starts speaking. Even assuming that it is possible to follow a particular conversation, it is very tiring indeed because of the interference from the other speakers, and - in my case - my sensitivity to sound.

People with hearing problems really can't follow a conversations for long in social gatherings and can't pick up on what a new group is saying and so make an entry for themselves. Consequently they are left feeling intensely isolated, inadequate and miserable. There are however a few guidelines that I have found helpful, which you may like to adapt for your own situation:

Suggestions for handling social gatherings when you are deaf

Restaurant parties are an absolute no-no as far as I am concerned. People are packed tightly together, all talking and laughing at the same time, and, custom dictates that everyone is tied to a particular seat for the duration.

A quiet visit to a restaurant with one or maybe two understanding friends or colleagues is possible at a time of day when the restaurant isn't busy. Ideally an open space (like an archway or open window) should be behind me: noise from in front seems more acceptable than from behind and an empty space doesn't reflect sound back as walls do.

Drinks receptions are manageable if I hover on the outskirts, with an open area behind me or even just outside an open door.

Garden parties are fine, and I can even enjoy them. Being out-of-doors there is no reflection from walls so that the general noise level is lower. Also I can move around and interact for just a few minutes at a time with small groups and can make my exit as soon as I need to, which is socially difficult in restaurants.

A couple of rather self-evident strategies grow out of these suggestions:

social gathing
  • Be firm about the social situations in which you can and can't participate and if necessary explain them - although it is difficult to take people's time to explain fully.
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Disclaimer: The information on this site is for a lay audience and I cannot be responsible for errors or omissions. The views, strategies, advice and suggestions etc are based on my personal experience and are not necessarily appropriate for anyone else. They should, hopefully, stimulate individuals to develop their own strategies.