Charlie Swinbourne: 5 annoying things about going on holiday when you’re deaf

Posted on August 19, 2014

Holidays. You work yourself to the bone (or merely to the beak in the Chicken’s case) all year round and your reward is two weeks away from home when you get to relax, unwind, switch off, and enjoy yourself.

I’ve just come back from two weeks in Scotland and don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time with my wife and kids exploring the west coast and Scotland’s spectacular lochs and islands – not to mention a day at the Edinburgh Fringe where we saw a BSL debate (keep an eye out for my review of the show later this week).

But however breathtaking the scenery was (and I recommend visiting the Isle of Mull as soon as you possibly can) I was also reminded about how, when you’re deaf, you can find some things on holiday plain annoying.

Some of these are specific to our own experience, while others could apply to anywhere you go on holiday.

Here they are…

1) Boat trips without access to the commentary

We took a trip around Loch Lomond which played an audio commentary about the loch and its sights which had been recorded by a BBC presenter.

The boat offered printed transcripts in French, German and a number of other languages, except – crucially – in English. They’d run out, apparently.

So we went round the loch for an hour without a clue what we were looking at. Which isn’t much fun.

We then met the owner of the company, who responded to our complaint about the lack of transcript via the twin mediums of anger and provocation.

Which was even less fun.

2) Slow wi-fi or 3G connections

No-one goes on holiday to spend all their time online – and I’m not suggesting anyone rips up the Scottish Highlands to lay some fibre cable anytime soon.

But for deaf people, slow or non-existent mobile internet connections in remote areas make it impossible to use some of the online services you’re used to using day in, day out at home – like FaceTime or Skype if you’re signing (or lipreading), WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or more simply, email.

I won’t deny that there’s something relaxing about being offline – until you’re trying to book a ferry trip and the page won’t load.

3) Trying to lipread foreign accents

I should start by saying Scotland’s not a foreign country (although it could be in a just a month’s time if they vote for independence).

But wherever you’re from, trying to lipread people who speak in a very different accent from your own can be tricky (it’s just as hard, I’d imagine, for a deaf Scot coming to England).

After a while, I thought I should get a t-shirt printed that said “sorry, could you repeat that?” So that I could save myself the bother of actually saying it.

Happily, most Scots were lovely (kudos to the two volunteers at the Oban War and Peace Museum) and more than happy to repeat themselves.

The first three times I couldn’t make out what they were saying, at least.

4) No subtitles on the hotel TV 

Just like with wi-fi, no-one goes on holiday to spend all their time watching TV. Honest.

But when you’ve got kids, and you’ve been out all day, and you’ve just battled to put them to bed for the best part of an hour, the telly is a medium by which you can escape the pure madness of parenthood.

By watching the Commonwealth Games (which were happening just down the road) or the Scottish Independence Debate, for example.

But for some reason, the TV at the lodge we stayed in for the first week was connected to a hotel TV system which didn’t allow subtitles to be shown on TV channels at all.

This had its compensations – it meant we reminded ourselves just how good Seinfeld is (if you’ve never seen it, here’s a subtitled clip) by working our way through the box set of series 7.

But it was annoying, and ultimately, this shouldn’t still be happening in 2014.

5) Finding yourself unable to do much other than eat and drink while away

The fact is that accessible theatre performances (via captioning or sign interpretation) and subtitled cinema screenings are nearly always available only in large cities and towns (even then, you have to research the times carefully).

So when you’re anywhere more remote, what you gain in greenery and beautiful surroundings you lose in, er, entertainment options (that might be the most boring possible way of describing something that’s supposed to excite you, but there goes).

When you’re deaf and on holiday, you tend to find that when it comes to evening entertainment, you’re limited, in the main, to spending time in the local pubs or restaurants.

I like my food and drink and chatter, so that’s not the end of the world, but it’d be nice to be able access more local culture while away.

I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but I do know that my waistline would be grateful if one could be found.

Automatic iPad transcription, anyone?

Do you have any examples of things you’ve found annoying on holiday? Tell us below.

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist (Guardian, BBC Online) and award-winning scriptwriter. His short film The Kiss was shown at Bradford International Film Festival in March, and his comedy Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool can now be seen on the BSL Zone by clicking here.

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