Making the Holidays Inclusive for People Who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing

Happy Holidays over fuzzy colored lightsWhen psychologist Linda Twilling, Ph.D. asks many patients who are Deaf and come from hearing families about the holidays, she says they respond with a single sign: “Horrible.”

Black and white picture: girl sits alone under a sign that is probably in Russian.
For many people, Christmas can be a lonely and challenging time when family language doesn’t make sense. photo credit: Thomas Leuthard Sofia via photopin (license)

Twilling says that some patients who are Deaf complain about missing out on long family jokes and incomplete translations of important family speech.

“Other Deaf people tell me another story of hope and disappointment. These Deaf people decide to avoid the holiday dinner with their hearing families, because of past isolation. Instead, they join friends for dinner or stay home to watch a movie,” she says. But they are still disappointed and miss family.

Whether you are hearing and wanting to include family and friends who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, or if you are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, here are some ways to make the holidays brighter with better communication access.

Strategies for an Inclusive Christmas

The women communicate in bright lightning. One is wearing a string of lights and a Santa hat.
Bright lighting helps people to see your facial expressions, signs, and to read lips. photo credit: Paulisson Miura Happy Xmas 2013 via photopin (license)

Plan ahead. The Limping Chicken’s editor, Charlie Swinbourne, provides “12 tips to ensure deaf people aren’t left out at Christmas.” His tips include making visual holiday communications, such as phone calls using Skype, and playing games that provide some time for heavy communication breaks that give family and friends a break from having to decipher what everyone says.

Darth Vader Lego figure holds a teddy bear and says to a shorter Darth Vader kid figure, "I am your father."
Charlie Swinbourne recommends using captioned movies. All TVs since the 1990’s have captioning available. photo credit: black.zack00 I am your father via photopin (license)
Woman sits on floor in front of a bright Christmas tree.
Provide quiet times so that your family member or friend can rest their mind from translating what everyone says. photo credit: Benjamin Disinger Mom via photopin (license)

Learn some holiday sign language. The Huffington Post shares Holiday Signs with interpreter Lydia Callis.

Study some American Sign Language, or ASL: ASL Lesson 1 with Dr. Bill Vickers.

Here is a another popular beginning ASL lesson on You Tube.

You can follow lesson 1 with 100 basic ASL signs.

Share a holiday story in American Sign Language, like “The Night Before Christmas.”

Blurry star Christmas lights.
Make sure holiday goings include everyone, especially when music is involved, by attending signed or captioned events, or by providing lyrics or translations. photo credit: mag3737 Lights of Hope via photopin (license)

Visit accessible events with your family members and friends who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, such as the Houston McCoy Christmas display house that shows captions for the song lyrics, attend movies that have captions (use Captionfish to let you know), and attend accessible church services, such as those at Woodhaven Baptist Church in Houston—where ASL is the main language and voice interpreters are used for those don’t sign.

If possible, attend Deaf social events with family members or friends.

Twilling says that one family hired an interpreter for their son for holiday, causing him to say his holiday was “great.”

See Santa surprise a young girl by using British sign language with her.

Person's hand showing the sign for I love you.
If you know sign language, share it with family and friends. photo credit: purprin I love You via photopin (license)

If you are Deaf, you can have fun with sign and teach the family a Christmas carol in ASL, “All I Really Want for Christmas.”

Young woman smiles with joy.
There’s nothing like the smile of someone who feels accepted. photo credit: ninabaumann saltum 15 via photopin (license)

One example Twilling gives about a patient who said they had a great holiday was to invite a friend who was also Deaf.

“With two Deaf people at the vacation home, it was obvious that group communication needed to include them. Although this woman commonly functions by speaking and speech reading within her family, they made the effort to communicate more visually, and include her and her friend in planning and conversations,” Twilling says.

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