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RNID design Christmas game to help tackle ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’ which can often make many deaf people feel socially isolated

November 17, 2020

A press release:

RNID, the leading charity working to make life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss and tinnitus, has designed a Christmas dinner party game for families, friends or colleagues that’s inclusive of people with hearing loss as well as being lots of fun. The game was designed to help tackle ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’ a phenomenon in which deaf people or people with hearing loss are perpetually left out of conversations.

One in five people in the UK has hearing loss, so it’s likely that someone at your dinner table this Christmas could find it difficult to follow the conversation, especially if it’s loud and several people are talking at once. It’s impossible to lipread more than one person at a time and trying to keep up can be really draining. The game draws attention to these challenges, encouraging everyone at the dinner table to be mindful of how they communicate with others – all while having some festive fun.

Evie Cryer, who became deaf in her twenties, explains her experiences of dinner table syndrome as a child and the feelings of isolation and loneliness that she felt as a result:

“I was born hearing. I grew up the centre of attention, or at least battling my sister to be centre of attention. I am a very sociable person and love to be around friends and family, chatting, talking and generally putting the world to rights.

I started to lose my hearing as an adult. I had surgery on my ears as a child and I first noticed a drop in my hearing at around age 23. I was eventually told this was due to scar tissue on my eardrums. I was fitted with two behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids but all they did was make everything louder. I invested in private hearing aids which mimicked natural ears and at least attempted to filter sounds.

As my hearing loss developed, I found myself favouring 1-1 or small group interactions. I did so to avoid that drowning sensation of failing to follow a multitude of voices and sinking into isolation as you become further and further behind.

When out for tea one night with my better half, I realised I hadn’t ‘heard’ a word she’d said over the din of other diners, waiters, pots, glasses clinking and feet stomping.

Rather, I had lipread everything almost word-for-word. Suddenly, the excitement at the idea of being able to survive, even in crowded places, thrilled me. Little did I realise how draining or isolating it could still be.

Back then, I didn’t know that it’s a situation and feeling well known by the deaf community. It even has a name: ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’.”

Evie adds how she explains ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’ to hearing people:

Imagine you are sitting around the table with 10 people, all chatting about what they watched on TV the previous night. But instead of speech coming out of each mouth, each sentence is a separate text message bubble being released into the air.

As a lip-reader, in order to follow the conversation, not only do you have to read each bubble as it is released, but you have to work out which order to read them in, and read the facial expressions of each person to know the context of what they have said.

You’re always slightly behind, and it’s incredibly draining.

I’m lucky in that that my hearing aids give me a level of hearing that means I can follow in small groups, and especially in quiet surroundings – for instance, at my own dinner table. But I know there are deaf people for whom this is not the case, and for whom the festive period brings anxiety and social isolation.

My Christmas wish is for hearing people to ask their deaf friends and family two things, how best to make their dinner table deaf-friendly and how to reduce social isolation for deaf people.”

Paul Hayward, Head of Public Fundraising at RNID said;

“Our Christmas dinner party game is a great alternative to the quizzes so many of us have taken part in as we have spent time at home throughout 2020. As well as enjoying the fun activities, we hope people will think about how they communicate with others and be deaf aware. By ordering one of our Christmas dinner party games, people will be supporting our work to make life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus”.

To order your game pack by Sunday 6th December 2020, please complete the online form and make a donation at: https://rnid.org.uk/get-involved/donate/christmas-dinner-game/  

Your donation will help the RNID to make life fully inclusive for deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus.

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