A church service can be full of distractions for anyone, but it is often hard to navigate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Those who don't experience difficulty hearing may not have thought about how accessible your services are to those who do. Serving others well, however, means that everyone needs to be able to get the full benefit of worship. Fortunately, there are many steps your church can take to make your services as accessible as possible.
General awareness is important any time you think about accessibility. To better serve those with hearing difficulties, there are several practices to keep in mind:
- Speakers should face the congregation at all times to help those who read lips.
- The pulpit or stage should remain well lit, particularly the areas where speakers are located.
- Visual aids should be used whenever possible.
- Paper and pens should be available near every seat to assist with personal conversations.
Technology is constantly evolving to give churches new ways to present material, and many of these elements can improve accessibility. Videos can be captioned, and speakers' images can be projected onto a screen in larger auditoriums. These considerations can be helpful for many people. If you haven't already done so, consider forming a team that is tasked with finding innovations that make your services more equitable for everyone.
Sign Language Interpreter
While those who are hard of hearing may benefit from a reliable sound system, deaf people must rely completely on their other senses to understand what is going on around them. An ASL interpreter who translates not only the sermon but also the announcements, songs, readings and everything else that goes on during the service ensures that deaf members of your congregation don't miss out on anything. The easiest solution is to hire an experienced ASL interpreter. When you pay for the service, you can expect reliable interpretation.
There is also benefit in encouraging members who are interested in learning ASL by seeking out opportunities for them to learn together. Consider hosting ASL classes or partnering with a local organization that offers them for those who want to learn a new language. You may even have enough interest to eventually build a team of people who can step in when your official interpreter needs a break or can't attend.
Many members of your congregation probably have some type of hearing difficulty. Making sure your sound system works well can help on some level, but those with hearing aids or auditory processing disorders may still have difficulty filtering the sounds they want to hear from the noise in the environment. A frequency modulation device can reduce extraneous noise with radio waves. The speaker uses a special microphone and the message is delivered to the receiver via a headset or hearing aid boot. An option that may be more appealing to those who don't want to ask for a headset or have to wear something extra throughout the service is a hearing loop. This system can be installed in your church, and anyone with a hearing aid can tune in to it to have what is coming through the sound system delivered directly to the aid.
Improving accessibility requires out-of-the-box thinking for those who have never had to consider certain difficulties in their own lives, but it's essential for showing people that you truly care. In order to be welcoming to all, you have to employ the necessary tools to include as many people as possible. The more work your church does to make services more accessible, the more welcome those who are deaf or hard of hearing are likely to feel.