Deaf Talkabout: How the Slieve Donard made sure we had a really good break

The Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle is one of our favourite bolt holes and we jump at the chance to get away for a few days when good weather coincides with the hotel’s special offers. We go for the two nights’ bed and breakfast with dinner on the first day and had a wonderful time there last week in brilliant sunshine.

It took quite a while, but we have now built up quite a good rapport with the staff and they are gradually learning more about deaf awareness and the best way to cope with deaf visitors. When making the initial booking I try to make it clear that two things are absolutely essential for people like us: the first thing is that being cut off from sound deaf people need a room with a good view of the sea or surrounding countryside, and secondly, the TV set in the bedroom must have subtitles.

The management were very understanding about this and after checking in a young porter carried our bags up to a lovely bedroom at the front of the hotel with views of both the sea and mountain. John, the porter, turned on the big wall-mounted TV and showed us how to bring up the subtitles. He told us his brother was deaf and attended a local school where sign language was not used and lip-reading was the preferred manner of communicating.

The first thing Evelyn and I did after unpacking was to assemble our new flashing alarm and attach it to the top of the bedroom door. This was the first opportunity we’d had to try it out after getting it as a present last Christmas and it worked like a dream. You just switch it on, open the door and pull the thin wires over the top of the door with the gadget hanging down inside. When someone raps on the closed door a very bright light flashes on and off for a few seconds and is impossible to miss. It’s good also if one of us forget our key card on going out and can’t get back in again. It flashed early in the morning when the newspaper boy came round…and just think of its value if there was a fire or other emergency in the hotel.

Another pleasant surprise was when we came down for dinner on the first night, and after being directed to a quiet window seat and ordering our drinks the chief waiter came over to help us choose from the extensive menu. He gave us the thumb up sign for those dishes he personally recommended and then went away and returned with a young waiter with some basic sign language skills he had been taught at school. With his help we went over things again to make sure we were happy with the choices made. It was good to have all this attention and help, but Evelyn and I are proficient lip-readers and the hotel staff might benefit from a little more deaf awareness training on the different types of communication required for different types of hearing loss.

We had heard a lot about the Mourne Sea-Food bar at nearby Dundrum, so we drove there on Friday for lunch. It was a quiet time of the day so the waitress had time to chat with us before the place started to fill up, and chatting to her was a revelation. She was one of those hearing people who speak so naturally and clearly that you can almost forget you are deaf. She was a former air-hostess used to speaking to people of many different languages and told us about the many places she had visited, including Japan where our son lives. We had cod and salmon for lunch, both excellent, but she told us the bar specialises in sea-foods such as scallops and lobsters and on busy weekends tables need to be booked weeks ahead. It would be lovely to return some evening if we could be sure someone with Lisa’s empathy and gift of communicating was on duty.

Email and texting are making things so much easier for deaf people when booking hotel accommodation or reserving a table at a restaurant. With a little more deaf awareness training things would be even better.

from Bob Mc Cullough

Belfast Telegraph

e-mail bobmccbelfast@yahoo.co.uk