Making The Holiday Season Inclusive

The holiday season is a wonderful time of family gatherings, parties, and programs. However, this time can be frustrating and even lonely for individuals with a hearing loss. Here are a few tips to help make the loveliest time of year inclusive for all. If you are able to gather safely with family who have a hearing loss, please remember these tips:

  • Maintain social distancing
  • Don’t cover up your month, use a clear face mask or shield so your mouth can be seen
  • Get someone’s attention before trying to talk to them
  • Make sure to be clear about the topic of the conversation before talking about the topic
  • Maintain eye contact throughout the conversation
  • Make sure to face the individual the entire conversation, don’t turn your face away when talking
  • Be sure to not cover your mouth with your hands, coffee mug, etc.
  • Avoid over exaggerating your mouth when you speak – this will make it more challenging to understand what you are saying
  • Speak naturally – there is no need to yell because that just changes your mouth movements and therefore makes it harder to understand
  • If the individual doesn’t understand what you said: don’t become frustrated or angry, don’t just brush it off by saying something like “never mind”, and don’t isolate the individual from future conversations. Instead, rephrase what you said to allow for another chance for understanding.
  • Be sure to converse away from background noise
  • Be sure to converse in an area with good lighting so your face can be seen

Tanya Haga is the Director of Deaf Services and has worked at Catalyst Life Services since 2014 in this role. She has a Bachelor’s of Arts in American Sign Language Interpreting, a Master’s of Education and Master’s in Business Administration. She is also nationally certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Tanya’s responsibilities include management and oversight of interpreting, captioning, case management for clients with a hearing loss, sign language classes, summer youth program, and contract and grant projects.

Language Access: COVID-19 Impact

In the middle of March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ohio, one barrier that became glaringly apparent was the lack of accessible language in many areas of society. This was shown through:

  • Masks blocking people’s faces so lip reading couldn’t happen and voices were muffled
  • Interpreters were limited from being brought into appointments when needed
  • Remote appointments were not always accessible due to a lack of interpreter or the platform not being user friendly

Now that we are four months down the road, here are a few tips to improve language access during the COVID-19 pandemic and any other time.

1. Being able to see the entire face is necessary for the grammar of American Sign Language. This means that a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing individual who uses American Sign Language to communicate will need to have their face seen by the interpreter and be able to see the face of the interpreter in order to have full language access. Access to and ability to use clear face masks or shields is necessary in order to make sure the language is accessible.

2. Face masks muffle the voice of the speaker. This means that the speaker may need to repeat themselves often and/or speaker louder in order to be heard by a hard-of-hearing individual who uses their residual hearing/hearing aids/cochlear implants for language access. These same individuals often read lips as well. Having access to be able to do this by having the speaker use a clear face mask or shields is necessary in order to make sure the language is accessible.

3. Families and friends are not appropriate interpreters for a Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing individual who uses American Sign Language. Interpreters are required to follow the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Code of Professional Conduct, receive education on American Sign Language and the interpreting process and laws, and trainings focused on interpreting. Professional American Sign Language interpreters are required to remain unbiased, interpret fully, and maintain confidentiality. Family and friends cannot fit all of these requirements, even if they can sign.

4. Video remote interpreters may not be the best choice for appointments. Deaf and hard-of-Hearing individuals who communicate using American Sign Language may not be able to see the video remote interpreter on the screen, may not understand the video remote interpreter, or may prefer a live in-person interpreter for many reasons. Another issue is that locations that choose to use video remote interpreters often don’t know how to use the equipment effectively, which can be very frustrating to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individual. When determining language access, these concerns need to be taken into consideration.

Contact us!

Catalyst Life Services Community Center for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing provides 24/7 American Sign Language interpreting in the counties of Ashland, Crawford, Huron, Knox, Marion, Morrow, Richland, Seneca, and Wyandot. For more information, please call (419) 774-2232.


Tanya Haga is the Director of Deaf Services and has worked at Catalyst Life Services since 2014 in this role. She has a Bachelor’s of Arts in American Sign Language Interpreting, a Master’s of Education and Master’s in Business Administration. She is also nationally certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. Tanya’s responsibilities include management and oversight of interpreting, captioning, case management for clients with a hearing loss, sign language classes, summer youth program, and contract and grant projects.

Deaf and addicted: How one woman reclaimed her life with Catalyst Life Services

She’s seated across from me in the ambient light of the Director of Deaf Service’s office. Her interpreter is by my side so she can have a clear view of her hands, and so I don’t mistakenly direct my attention and questions to the interpreter instead of the woman herself.

She’s been a client of Catalyst Life Services for over two decades. In May, she will be sober for one year. I ask her what first brought her to Catalyst, and she begins rapidly moving her hands to tell her story.

“I think I was 25.  I was addicted to drugs and had attempted suicide.” There’s a pause before she continues, “It was from my childhood. I had a really bad experience. I was sexually molested and that was why I was depressed. So, when I added drugs and alcohol…” She makes a gesture like a bomb going off.

25 was a difficult age for this woman, who wished to remain anonymous. She unexpectedly ended up pregnant, left her family, and married the father of her child–a marriage that eventually ended, leaving her to raise her children on her own. It was only when she came to the Richland County Health Department for assistance during her pregnancy that she learned she could use the services of an interpreter. The interpreters she found came from the nearby Rehab Center–now part of Catalyst Life Services; it was through contact with them that she was able to find the help she needed when her life took a turn for the worse. Through Catalyst, she’s taken part in addiction therapy groups, private counseling sessions, visited the Audiologist, and utilized the many services offered at the Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. When I asked her how Catalyst helps her, she indicates a never-ending list. There’s the mental wellness part, of course, but then there is the more day to day assistance. Director of Deaf Services Tanya Haga explains that for many deaf clients, English is not their first language, so paperwork that they get from the doctor’s office or letters they receive from schools concerning their children are difficult to read. The uninitiated, myself included, may be forgiven for not understanding that American Sign Language isn’t based off of American English. “The grammar is completely different,” says Haga.

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