Coping with their immediate surroundings is a challenge that deaf people face. This is especially true when attending social gatherings with a huge number of normal hearing individuals such as in employment settings, government offices, public meetings, public accommodations, community events and worship meetings.
Since most churches do not have sufficient involvement in reaching out to the deaf community to encourage participation and improve access for everyone, many hard-of-hearing individuals often find themselves isolated during the worship and may often feel that the spiritual connection they are seeking is wanting.
This is a huge struggle for many, particularly for older people who tend to go to church more regularly despite the fact that their hearing capabilities are slowly deteriorating, as well as for children who attend church with their hearing families but whose main communication tool is sign language.
The majority of the deaf community in the UK utilise BSL or British Sign Language to communicate, however, it is a visually perceived language based on a naturally evolved system of articulated hand gestures and their placement relative to the body, together with facial expressions, head movements and other non-manual markers. That said, while supplying a script of the sermon would technically provide the Deaf access, most would still prefer visual communication using BSL.
The only problem is that while there are some churches who do offer the services of skilled BSL interpreters, many hard-of-hearing individuals still have limited access to outside religious study and participation in the church’s community life.
Another thing is the importance of having deaf clergymen to minister to the deaf. For many people who have hearing conditions, seeing a priest who understands their language and culture is very important.
In light of these, here are a few ways that hearing churches can make worship accessible for the deaf community:
- Be an essential part of the church by reaching out to both the deaf and hearing communities.
- Provide the Deaf with the opportunity to worship and learn in an atmosphere where BSL is the primary language.
- Encourage members of the clergy to learn BSL.
- Encourage hearing people who have an interest in BSL to attend church programs designed for your hard-of-hearing members to build a stronger bond between the two communities.
- Disseminate the awareness and respect for deaf people and their culture.
- Offer deaf people access to retreats and spiritual enrichment sessions facilitated by BSL.
- Supply sufficient information among all ministers in pastoral care such as chaplains, hospice workers, parish and hospital staff, as well as funeral directors about the needs of hard-of-hearing individuals.
- Provide leadership opportunities for the deaf to participate and/or lead in the areas of pastoral care, worship and education.
- Educate deaf people about the services and opportunities they can offer.
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