How can I avoid exclusion within family gatherings?

A lot of my friends ask me about this issue and I am never sure how to answer: how can I make large family gatherings of hearing relatives enjoyable? I tend to find myself ignored and excluded … it gets so bad, I always leave early.

John, Peacehaven

Deafauntie says:

Gosh – if I knew the answer I’d be a millionaire! It is something that bugs nearly everyone I know and it regularly comes up in Deaf Awareness (by hearing people). The answer, as you know, is simple – speak clearly, include the deaf person and repeat when necessary (without rolling your eyes).

The reality is maddening. I remember a deaf person telling me years ago she always took a video (not DVD!) with her to her family so she could watch something whilst her family got on with things. That really shocked me, but won’t be an unfamiliar story to lots of people.

My advice is the same as when with groups of people (at work for example): find one ally who will repeat things for you, sit opposite them or sit opposite the family member who talks the most (or the Chair at work), smile and say “what have I missed?” and accept your tolerance level will last for about an hour.


2 responses to “How can I avoid exclusion within family gatherings?

  1. The word ‘excluded’ is the word I have thought about more than any other this summer. The awaydays with work (residential with work for 2 days and all in groups) are mental torture – Such events sap your confidence and leave you feeling very low. On the last awayday I contacted the venue and organisers in advance and got all the help I could. I then asked to be put in a group with someone who would help me and spoke clearly.
    In family situations, I try and communucate one to one or in as small a group as possible and then be assertive asking them to slow down, ask them what they are talking about etc until they do it far more.
    I recently decided to start learning sign language and my mum said if you learn it, I will too. Hopefully if she does, then my sister might and it will spread. It is frustrating being excluded and its a common problem and many people probably dont realise that they are actually excluding you and may even forget you are deaf/hard of hearing so good to remind them.

  2. Assertiveness comes with age, I guess. I simply walked out of a family gathering where I felt completely ignored and went to the pub – alone. Someone noticed I was missing and a search party was sent out to look for me. I was found sitting quite contentedly in this pub and asked why I’d gone off like that. I pointed out that due to nobody remotely taking my communication needs into consideration, I was in fact having a more meaningful relationship with my pint and my own thoughts. I think that shocked everyone and since then, things have improved though not always perfect. Since then, I do feel more included than before but regrettably to achieve this, I had to resort to this short, sharp shock measure.
    I have good speech and lip reading abilities so am not sure if this is relevant to BSL users but it’s that perception amongst our hearing relatives (not so much friends) that as long as we’re grinning away in the corner, everything is fine that surely unites all deaf people with hearing families. It’s that inherent laziness from our nearest and dearest that angers me.

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