How to host hearing loss friendly holiday parties
The holidays can be difficult for people with hearing loss. Spending time with friends and family is wonderful, but holiday gatherings tend to be large and loud and often occur one after the other. It can be exhausting and overwhelming for someone with hearing loss given how much concentration it takes to follow conversations, even when things are quiet! Sometimes people with hearing loss choose to skip the festivities rather than brave the risk of mishearings and social isolation. But you can help them join in on the fun.
If you are hosting a holiday party, take these tips into account to make your gathering more hearing loss friendly. I bet your friends with normal hearing will thank you, too.
1. Break up the party space into discrete areas. Different parts of the space can be used for various activities — dancing, eating or conversation. Be sure to set aside at least one zone for quiet conversation. Keep the music volume low in this area and try to add sound absorbing materials like carpet or pillows into the décor. At a minimum, breaking up the space will cut down on the overall level of background noise.
2. Turn the lights up and the music down. People often crank up the music and dim the lights at parties, but both make it challenging for people with hearing loss to communicate. Do the opposite, at least in certain areas of the space. Picking a quieter soundtrack allows guests to speak at lower volumes keeping the overall noise level down. Lights also help people to better see their conversation partners, making lip-reading easier.
3. Watch for the loner in the corner. I remember my father sneaking off to sit alone at parties. It was difficult for him to hear and exhausting to keep trying so he often gave up and isolated himself from the fun. If you notice one of your guests off on his own, seek him out for a one-on-one conversation somewhere quiet. This might be outside or in the hallway. Don’t try to lure him back into the fray until he is ready.
Sometimes a break is all that is needed to regain energy for more socializing.
4. Provide a microphone for speeches. Holiday parties often include toasts or other speeches. Use a microphone so that everyone can hear them. For larger or more extravagant parties, you can connect the microphone to a portable hearing loop so guests with hearing loss can listen in right from their t-coil enabled hearing aids.
5. Ask for input ahead of time. Often party invitations ask about dietary restrictions or food allergies. Make yours inclusive by asking guests who may need a centrally located seat at the dinner table or other accommodations to reach out to you in advance of the party. Pre-planning does wonders for inclusion.
6. Allow your guests to take breaks. Don’t be upset if someone with hearing loss retreats to a quiet area for some period of time during the event. Taking that opportunity to rest his ears and brain can do a lot to ready him for another round of socializing.
7. Be prepared to repeat or rephrase. If someone with hearing loss asks you to repeat what you said, do so in a clear and steady voice. Speak at a normal rate to aid with lip reading. If that doesn’t work, try using different words to convey the same meaning or spelling a difficult word. Please, don’t say “never mind.” This tells them they are not worthy of your effort.
8. Have realistic expectations. Even when everyone is trying their best, it just might not be possible for someone with hearing loss to hear well at a party. Bring your sense of humor and encourage your guests to bring theirs too. Mishearings can be quite humorous if we let them be.
With a little pre-planning and common sense, parties can be made more inclusive for everyone to enjoy. Try these tips before your next event.
If you're tired of missing out on too much fun because you have hearing loss, take action now. Check out the Healthy Hearing directory of hearing care professionals in your area and make the call to schedule a hearing test.
Happy Holidays to you all!
Editor's note: Shari Eberts is a passionate advocate for people with hearing loss and creator of the popular blog Living with Hearing Loss. We are proud to feature her timely advice to help you make your holiday parties more enjoyable for all your guests!