Dining While Deaf: A Recipe for Disaster

As I’m sitting in the restaurant I hear a sudden burst of laughter, someone at the end of the table is sharing a funny story or joke. Someone else chimes in with their detail, and another person talks over them. It’s difficult to decide what’s harder – studying a menu to go with the honey pork or rib eye or studying this crowd of people to attempt participating in the conversation.

Dining experiences are tough for most people, but when you have hearing loss, they can be pretty stressful! What most view as a festive night out, the constant laughter, a buzz of conversation and voices, good music playing in the background are all a recipe for disaster and the reason for the success of the Uber Eats empire amongst us Deaf people.

Now I don’t want to be that guy and say that we should eat in silence, or utilise a talking stick, these events should be filled with smiles and laughter — a celebration of the connections with friends. But like most activities, we need to think about inclusion. It’s likely that you will see me at the other end, neck craning trying to lean in and listen but too far from the speaker to get in on the action and too overwhelmed with the pace of the overlapping chatter to even try. In these moments, you feel isolated and alone, but strangely, also gratitude. I am lucky enough to have a partner that can sign and will naturally check in and interpret – seems I trained him pretty well!

But it isn’t up to my partner or me to make these adjustments, although I can guarantee that we will quickly plan the seating arrangement in our minds and shift around to best position ourselves for any event. But it is actually up to everyone else to be better guests. Communicating with someone with hearing loss takes a bit of work, especially in a group setting but in all honesty, too bad! Learn to be inclusive.

In the spirit of learning, I wanted to share some thoughts that I have during dinners, meetings, and pretty much most group settings:

1. Learn your stage positioning!

Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage – he wasn’t joking. We need to see your mouth as we use our ears and our eyes, so face towards us as much as possible. You can help by optimising the seating arrangement – work the angles.

2. Let me see those lips!

I don’t mean to be creepy but I need to read your lips to help give clues that will help me comprehend the speech. No I don’t care about you having food in your teeth, despite what your mama may have told you – covering your mouth isn’t polite.

3. Chew your food, not your words!

The amount of people that eat their words, that is they mumble or lack enunciation is terrible. I need you to talk clearly and at a moderate pace as I am trying to piece together a sensory puzzle.

4. One at a time, please!

To help me with that puzzle, it makes it really difficult if different pieces start getting thrown at my face. It may seem obvious but speaking one at a time and reducing the overlap will be very helpful – didn’t we learn this in pre-primary?

5. What?

I’m not even sorry for this. Be prepared to repeat or rephrase. I need it and you didn’t do it well enough the first time around.