Dining in Silence

A Hearing Impaired Experience of Community Meals

Written by Angelina Lam

The Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) Awareness Survey reported that almost 1 out of 4 Canadians have some hearing impairment. It is commonly thought that hearing loss is related to age, however younger people can also experience changes in their hearing ability.

Dining for people with hearing impairment can be challenging, especially when it comes to ordering food. A new restaurant, Deafined opened in Vancouver with the main dining staff serving customers using American Sign Language. This restaurant aims to help promote and empower those that have hearing impairments. Deafined recruited their staff from local schools such as Vancouver Community College, Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and YWCA Metro Vancouver Work BC.

My first experience dining at Deafined was delicious Middle Eastern food. A young waiter with the biggest smile greeted my table. He was patient when we tried to order in sign language. At our dining table was a booklet with common sign language that is useful when communicating with the dining staff such as “thank you” and “check please.”

Through my experience dining at Deafined, I noticed how important body language and facial expressions are when interacting with people who are hearing impaired. Reading someone’s eyes to see if they nod or seem confused is a simple step to determine if they understand.

The waiter also kept an eye at our table and re-filled our water without us having to flag him down. Before we left the manager came to ask us how our experience was and if we wanted to learn anything else in sign language. Overall, I felt that Deafined was a safe environment with staff members that shined with positive attitudes.

Deafined is intentionally set up to offer employment opportunities for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and to break down barriers between the deaf and the hearing. Restaurants like this encourage us to think about community meal settings, where hearing-impaired individuals with food security needs can find themselves in settings that are difficult to navigate.

Ways we can help improve dining at food programs:

  • Brightly lit rooms can help with easier lip reading
  • Lowering the music volume and unnecessary background noise can help those with hearing aids to pick up conversation and necessary sounds
  • Having pens and papers available at the dining table can be useful for those who are not familiar with American Sign Language
  • Training staff basic American Sign Language and how to read body language and facial expressions can be helpful for basic communication

Angelina is studying to be a dietitian at UBC. She is interested in learning about the complex challenges of hunger and health. In the future, Angelina wishes to work in the community and develop programs and resources that are accessible to everyone.

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