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Making religious celebrations deaf-friendly

Photo: If your child uses British Sign Language (BSL), find out about signed services in your area or online.

Zain (16) is profoundly deaf and wears cochlear implants.
“My faith is very important to me. Being deaf and being Muslim all tie in as parts of my identity.”

In many faiths, religious celebrations play an important role in how a child develops their religious identity, values and beliefs. However, for deaf children and young people, a busy, noisy celebration can feel overwhelming.

If your child finds some of your traditions and customs challenging, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to take part in the celebration at all! You might just need to celebrate in a different way.

On this page, we look at some of the ways you can help deaf children to feel included in religious celebrations. You may want to share these with family, friends, teachers, preachers, or anyone else who’ll be helping your child to celebrate.

Managing mealtimes

"He can struggle if we go out to a restaurant to celebrate. He asks for my phone because he just wants to watch something and eat. He takes himself away from everyone because he finds it's too much processing everything that's going on.”
Husna is mum to Hamza (10), who's profoundly deaf and wears cochlear implants.

Enjoying a special meal with extended family and friends is a big part of many religious events. Here are some tips to make mealtimes deaf-friendly.

  • Use tablecloths to absorb sound from clattering cutlery.
  • Think about positioning – can the child see everyone clearly to lip-read or sign? A round table is ideal as it means that everyone can see each other.
  • Let the child choose where they want to sit. Some deaf children might prefer to sit facing a certain way, or with their back against the wall, to reduce background noise.
  • Encourage people to speak one at a time.
  • Don’t talk with your mouth full or cover your mouth when speaking.
  • Put your cutlery down from time to time to sign.
  • Be aware that a deaf child may choose to eat all their food and then get involved in conversation rather than trying to follow while eating.
  • Let the child know what the topic of conversation is so that they can follow more easily.
  • When eating out, ask for a table in a quiet, well-lit area.
  • Encourage your child to ask the waiting staff or host for what they want. Try not to order for them.

Managing noisy environments

“Sometimes, if there are lots of people all in a large, echoey room, the noise can feel like it’s destroying my ear drums. It can happen at prayer time in school or at the synagogue. I can stand it for a while, but sometimes I step outside if the noise becomes too much.”
Maxi (12) is moderately deaf and wears hearing aids.

Just because a child is deaf, it doesn’t mean they won’t be affected by noise. In fact, people who wear hearing technology can often find loud noises and music uncomfortable or even painful, as the hearing technology might make the sound very loud or distorted. Hearing technology amplifies all noises, not just what the child is trying to listen to.

  • Try to keep background noise to a minimum. Consider turning music down or off during conversations or mealtimes.
  • If a child is expected to join in with singing or prayer, offering a written or signed copy of the words will help them to follow.
  • Allow your child to leave the room if it’s too noisy for them. Agree a safe space where they’ll wait until they’re ready to come back in, or until the room is quieter.
  • Noisy firecrackers and fireworks might be especially uncomfortable for deaf children. Silent fireworks like sparklers or noiseless rockets can look just as dramatic and help everyone enjoy the evening.

Managing religious services

“The weekly service takes place on a Saturday when the use of microphones is not allowed as it’s the Sabbath in Judaism. Maxi always makes sure to sit near the front, facing the Rabbi, so that he can lip-read.”
Gisela is mum to Maxi (12), who’s moderately deaf and wears hearing aids.

Religious services held in large, echoey rooms can be difficult for deaf children to follow. There are lots of ways you can help your child to take part in the service.

  • Try to sit close to the front or near the speaker, in a position where your child can clearly see the speaker’s face. Your child might prefer to sit against a wall instead of being in the middle of the room.
  • If your child uses equipment such as a radio aid at school, ask if you can take it home for religious services. The speaker at the service can wear the radio aid around their neck or place it at the front of the room if they prefer.
  • Many religious buildings have loop systems installed which can help hearing technology users to hear the speaker more clearly. Find out more about loop systems and how they work.
  • If your place of worship doesn’t allow technology to be used on certain days such as the Sabbath, ask if a special exception could be made for your child. Alternatively, consider going to a service on a different day.
  • If your child uses British Sign Language (BSL), find out about signed services in your area. If there aren’t any, ask your place of worship whether they could provide interpreters for special occasions.
  • Find out about BSL services online. For example, the organisation Islam for Deaf offers hadiths, lessons and sermons in BSL on their website. Make time to watch these as a family to help your child feel included.
  • If your child is expected to take part in activities such as singing, dancing or prayer during the service, explain this in advance. Be aware that a deaf child may struggle to follow instructions if there are other distractions happening at the same time.

Head coverings and headscarves

“Hamza can’t wear a hat because it interferes with his implant, and risks covering up the microphone. So he doesn’t wear a hat when he goes to the mosque.”
Husna is mum to Hamza (10), who's profoundly deaf and wears cochlear implants.

For children who wear hearing technology such as hearing aids or cochlear implants, wearing a head covering such as a taqiyah, kippah or hijab can be difficult, especially if it would cover the part of the hearing technology where the microphone is. Try different styles and sizes to see what works or ask other deaf members of your community how they manage. You could also ask other parents for their advice on Your Community.

Some children might prefer not to wear a head covering at all. Allow your child to make this decision for themselves. They might want to try again when they’re a bit older.

Coping with candles

Lighting candles is an important part of many religious celebrations. However, for deaf children, candlelight can make lip-reading and understanding facial expressions difficult. If you usually light candles as part of your celebration, consider keeping your electric lights on at the same time as lighting candles to help your child follow the conversation.

If you prefer to keep the electric lights off, explain exactly what’s going to happen when you light the candles and what they mean before you turn the lights off. Be aware that your child might not join in while you light the candles or might prefer to go to a different room where the lights are on.

Joining in with dancing

For many children, joining in with dancing is a highlight of any religious celebration! Lots of deaf children still enjoy dancing, even if they don’t hear the music. You can help your child to join in with dancing by clapping, clicking or tapping their hand or shoulder to show the beats in the music. Dancing in a room with hard floors instead of carpets can also help a deaf child to feel the vibration of the music. Using technology such as a Bluetooth streamer might allow your child to listen to the music directly through their hearing technology.