The ‘Dinner Table Syndrome’ phenomenon leaves deaf people out of the discourse. In a world of remote work, the problem is getting even worse.
In November 2021, Hearing Speech + Deaf Center made a competitive pitch for grant funding for a Deaf Access Fund to give our deaf neighbors access to free sign language interpreting for their personal needs. You can watch our presentation here. This effort supports coverage by the BBC and New York Times on the deaf community’s lack of inclusion and access, even around the dinner table with friends and family.
The dinner table, a symbol of family life and bonding for most hearing people, often represents loneliness and inaccessibility to deaf people. Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, and the majority of those families – some put the number at 75%-90% – don’t learn a signed language to communicate with their child. Dinner Table Syndrome describes the phenomenon in which “deaf people are left out of conversations,” says Dr. Leah Geer Zarchy, a deaf associate professor of American Sign Language (ASL) and deaf studies at California State University, Sacramento. “If something is funny and everyone erupts in laughter, the deaf person will ask the closest person and ask what was so funny. Too often, they’re told, ‘Oh, it was nothing’ or ‘I’ll tell you later,’ which is just what our colleague reported in her presentation.