Deaf Travel28th July 2014

Holidaying with a Deaf Girlfriend

With a deaf girlfriend joining a family holiday, it's important to think how best to manage communication

by Brad Smith

When my son asked if his girlfriend could join us on holiday this year, I was happy to agree. We had already decided that we would head to the south of Spain, a relatively cheap destination for the British pound with guaranteed wall to wall sunshine. With my son's girlfriend being deaf in one ear, I also knew the shop and restaurant staff are usually excellent communicators, dealing with different languages and communication needs.

However, if we were to ensure her full involvement in the family holiday, it was also necessary to consider her needs in respect of communication throughout our vacation. Abigail is deaf in her left ear, meaning that she does not hear someone speaking in normal tones on her left hand side. Without a strategy around that, Abigail quite quickly withdraws from conversations and drifts into her own silent world if she cannot hear what is being said. I wanted to do everything I could to avoid that.

My wife and I planned to drive down to Nerja in the south of Spain, leaving my two sons and Abigail to fly. Booking the flights I ensured my eldest put an alarm into his iPhone exactly 30 days before the flight and the earliest point at which they could book their seats on-line. Eager to secure leg room for my 6'4" son, I also wanted to secure a row of seats for the three of them so that Abigail could sit on their left, ensuring she could chat easily to them throughout the flight.

Our holiday accommodation was situated just 10 metres from the sand at Burriana Beach and above a row of shops, snack bars, restaurants and cocktail bars. Concerned about noise that might affect our discussions whilst eating al fresco at the apartment, I enquired about the level of noise before confirming my booking and was assured the noise from below was minimal. Thankfully, that turned out to be the case.

Picking them up from the airport at midnight, and to get their luggage in the car, I had the roof down and was worried about Abigail hearing the conversation with the wind whistling in her ears. I need not have been concerned, as all three arrived in good spirits and sang at the top of their voices all the way from the airport to the apartment. We had not been away with Abigail beforehand but knew she rarely wore her hearing aid, so at breakfast the following day I wanted to ensure everyone was on board with Abigail's needs.

Interestingly, Abigail was nonplussed around this, already accepting that she is excluded from many of life's conversations and not making a fuss about it. She had fallen into a pattern and openly describes how she switches off completely if people don't include her, although she is not immune from complaining about that after the event. I hoped to avoid that, not least because I wanted to enjoy her company whilst on holiday.

Sitting outside on the terrace for that first breakfast, we were seated around a small round table. It was not ideal, as it meant someone always had to be on Abigail's left side, so we agreed that a light touch on her arm would be used by that person to allow Abigail to turn towards them if they were speaking. To avoid startling her through a tap on the shoulder, we agreed on the the light touch or small wave to get her attention when needed throughout the holiday. I also felt it was important to empower Abigail within the family setting, asking her to tell us if we got it wrong, rather than just putting up with it and suffering in silence.

When eating out as a family in the past, we have always just dived into any available seat when shown to our table. Of course for Abigail, that doesn't work, as she can easily find herself on the right hand end of a table thereby struggling to hear any of the conversation that takes place. Allowing her to always sit on the left hand end of the table made for far easier discussion. We were also careful about the type of restaurant we went to, ensuring we did not choose somewhere with too much background music as that can also be very disruptive.

When booking our beds on the beach, the same considerations were made, but depending on whether Abigail was sunbathing on her front or her back, she could still be isolated if plonked on the end, so on this occasion I ensured that didn't happen. I'm not saying that what we did was perfect, I'm sure it wasn't, but I hope that in constantly making a conscious effort to be aware of her deafness, we ensured Abigail was fully included.

During the holiday, we did revisit one of the issues that emerged when my father in law started to go deaf, speaking and laughing very loudly in public places. As with my father in law, Abigail doesn't know when she is doing it and therefore doesn’t understand why so many heads turn towards where the sound is coming from. Holidaying with such a handsome family, people looking at us doesn't bother me in the least. Working with a Deaf woman, I am used to the stares, but I always wonder whether Abigail, my father in law, or any other deaf person would want me to point out that they are being loud and attracting attention. Rather than ignore it or make an assumption, I sensitively ask them about it, and with quite varied responses, I'm glad I do.

Article by Brad Smith

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Travel

28th July 2014