The holidays are challenging for deaf youth, especially in a pandemic. Deaf students have reported feeling isolated from their peers with distance learning, and the communication barrier at home can increase those feelings.
The holidays are a time to celebrate traditions together but they can also intensify the deaf youth’s feelings of loneliness and isolation, possibly leading them to feel overwhelmed.
Here are 7 tips that families, guardians, and hosts can use to center their deaf youth while creating a more inclusive and happier environment during the holidays.
Check In and Ask Questions
The first step is to always check in with your deaf youth. Let them know up front that you’d like to improve communication with them and ask them about their communication preferences.
Make sure your questions are open-ended and empathetic. Some examples are: “how do you prefer to communicate?”, “what can I do differently to communicate with you better?”, or “how often would you like me to check in with you from now on?”
Listen with intent and trust in your deaf youth’s ability to lead the way.
[Image Description: Text: “Tip 1: Check in and ask questions”. A young girl is smiling and looking at her parents. The mother is holding out a paper pad while the father is holding up a phone. There’s three bubbles above them with icons representing three questions that they’ve got for their daughter. Does the daughter prefer to communicate with smartphones, paper pads, or verbally?]
If the deaf youth is a guest or new to the family, it’s best not to assume anything about them.
Don’t assume they can read lips, even if they might seem willing to do so. Deaf and hard of hearing people have to work harder to read lips, which can lead to stress and fatigue, especially when multiple people are talking.
Don’t assume all deaf youth know sign language, or ask them to teach you how to sign. It’s one more thing for them to stress out over in those uncertain times. Get a head start on this by learning the basics through online tutorials, smartphone apps, or books in your own time. Even learning a few basic signs can go a long way with the deaf youth.
[Image Description: Text: “Tip 2: Reduce assumptions.” Image is two comic strips stacked on each other. First strip: A woman is looking at a man who is rambling. She is confused because she doesn’t understand what the man is saying. Second strip: Bam! The woman is holding up a phone with a list of resources ready on it. Text: “The ASL App, Lifeprint.com, ASL Connect, and SignASL.org”. The man is relieved because now he can find another way to communicate with her. The woman is smiling.]
If space is tight in the household, that will add to everyone’s stress, especially if there are additional guests in the home.
Deaf college students might be missing their independence and the space they had in college. Check in with them to see if they want a private space where they can study, work, or unplug from everything.
Take the time to create that private space and respect them when they decide to take the time for themselves. It will not only help them cope with everything, but it’ll also give you a much needed cushion now and then.
[Image ID: Text: “Tip 3: Create space.” A woman has her foot up on a stool while linking her fingers and arms up above herself. There’s a partition between her and the rest of her family. There’s a man and a little boy chatting while watching television. The woman is grateful for her space.]
Take Advantage of Technology
There are so many ways to use technology to communicate with deaf youth. You can always text or use note-taking apps to write down what you want to say. You can save time if your smartphone or the app has a voice-to-text feature, but remember that the transcribing will not always be perfect.
Technology doesn’t have to mean the newest phone or the coolest app! Paper and a pencil will never fail you when you need to communicate with deaf youth.
One more thing: don’t forget to turn on captioning on your television or videos. You might be surprised who else loves them in your house!
[Image ID: Text: “Tip 4: Take advantage of technology.” A family of five, all women, is gathered around a round table. The grandma is happily scribbling away on a paper while the collegiate-aged adult is looking at her paper. The child is exclaiming at something on her phone as her mom, next to her and wearing a pendant, is looking at her teenager with a relaxed expression on her face. The teenager is returning the look, equally as contented, with a phone in her hand. A television is hung on the wall above them, showing a cat meowing and emanating cartoon hearts. The show is captioned!]
Play Deaf-friendly Games
Games and group activities can be a good way for families or friends to unwind together. Include the deaf youth by choosing games that use visual cues, playing cards or physical competition instead of ones that are dependent on speaking and listening. Take turns playing video games or play together in multiplayer mode. Be sure to check whether a video game is accessible for everyone in advance.
[Image ID: Text: “Tip 5: Play Deaf-friendly games.” A girl is pretending to menace her family while hunching over with her hands into claws and showing all of her teeth! The dad is in deep thought with his hand on his chin. The son is exclaiming while holding up the T handshape. But wait… The mother is holding up the R handshape, although she seems unsure! It looks like they’re playing Charades and guessing what word the daughter is acting out!]
Make the Most of Your Downtime
Do you have a lot of time on your hands and you want to learn more about deaf people and deaf culture? Take Deaf 101, a free, online course from National Deaf Center. You’ll be able to pick up basic knowledge and tools to effectively communicate with your deaf youth. That’s not the only thing you can do on NDC’s website, though. There are hundreds of free resources available.
[Image ID: Text: “Tip 6: Make the most of your downtime.” A woman is using her computer mouse to browse the Internet, while her cat is sleeping on her desk. There’s a plant next to the desk, and a toy duck on top of the monitor. The page that she’s currently on has the National Deaf Center logo in the top left corner and a sidebar below that. She’s watching a video about whether deaf people can read lips or not.]
Set Reasonable Expectations
It’s been a difficult year so far and winter will be especially tough for all of us. Be easy on yourself and everyone else. Check in with others, but give them some slack if they’re not up for conversation. Make time and space for yourself and encourage others to do the same. Work together to stay safe and take care of each other.
[Image ID: Text: “Tip 7: Set reasonable expectations.” A young woman is sitting on a couch while distraught. She is frowning and her hands are on her chin. She’s thinking about how she felt lost during a family conversation at the table. A man is next to her, and his hand is on her shoulder. He’s just as distraught as she is, while apologizing to her for what happened. A dog is next to them and it senses their sadness. It’s wearing a heart on its collar.]