So That All May Worship

Terry and I were contacted this week by the Hearing Loss Association of America – North Carolina State Association. http://www.nchearingloss.org/

They have invited us to speak in their Sept. ’07 conference. As we moved from NC four years ago, any chance to “git home” is always a treat! We readily accepted.

A few of the things they have asked us to think about doing a workshop on, included the topic: “So That All May Worship”. They would like to see a presentation with emphasis in accommodating those hard of hearing and late-deafened who want to participate in religious organizations. The state leaders had noted in Terry’s bio, that he has spoken on psychological and religious issues of acquired disabilities.

Even though I’m not sure I’m the best one to do this workshop with Terry (I highly recommended Terry’s friend Dr. David Myers – http://www.hearingloop.org/ – who has helped to loop over 300 churches and shares Terry’s passion to help churches become accessible – and in an affordable way), I told them we were very interested in this topic.

It is a God-like coincidence that we were contacted about this right now. Our own church, Summit Trace Church, http://www.summittrace.com/index.htm, meets on Sunday mornings at Regal Cinemas in Frederick. Regal Cinemas is already “tech ready” in that it has met the ADA guidelines for accessibility for late deafened customers. This same system can be accessed so that those churches… including our own, can make their own services open to those who have hearing loss. STC is hard at work making this happen. Our pastor wants to contact the thousands of other churches that meet in cinemas, to help them understand how to open their own services to the late deafened.

Some may say, “Why doesn’t each church just train and/or hire a sign language interpreter if they want to reach the Deaf?” If a church wishes to open their doors to the Deaf… that is exactly what they need to be willing to do. Either train interested church members, or hire an interpreter. The Deaf (spelled with a capital “D” to denote the culturally Deaf) use American Sign Language to communicate. A “looped”, or FM “ready” auditorium does not help them. However, of the 28 million Americans with hearing loss, only a very small fraction use sign (ASL) as their primary mode of communication. Conservative estimates are around 500,000-600,000 Americans – See: http://www.dawnsign.com/journey/index.html and http://gri.gallaudet.edu/Publications/ASL_Users.pdf#search=’number%20of%20Deaf%20who%20use%20ASL’

However, information from the House Ear Institute, http://www.hei.org/education/health/loss.htm tells us that there are more than 28 million Americans with hearing loss. If only 600,000 use ASL as their primary mode of communication, who are the rest of these people? (I’m so glad you asked!)

There is a large percentage of those with hearing loss who are not yet even “aided”… meaning no hearing aids or cochlear implants. To better “hear” in a place like STC, or other churches that are accessible, they will only need a borrowed “neck-loop” to hear (like what the theatre provides), but also ear buds, or other means by which to put the sound IN their ear.

There are many others with hearing loss who do wear hearing aids (HA) or cochlear implants (CI). Users can simply switch to “t-coil” … or the “telephone switch”, enabling them to receive a clear FM signal. The sound/voice going into the microphone, goes directly to the receiver in the HA or CI. No background noise competes with the FM signal, and as it is usually piped right into the ear canal, the voice is usually very clear.

Why is any of this important? Do you know that when I am speaking to a group of late-deafened people, and ask, “What do you drop out of first when you have a hearing loss? How do you isolate yourself?” Church is the number one answer. Imagine going into a church… perhaps one that you’ve been involved in for a number of years. You no longer hear well, someone in the back stands up and gives a prayer request. You know this person. Tears are coursing down their face, the pastor then prays for this person/family. You have heard nothing. You have no idea why your friend is upset. Imagine going into church and the song leader announces what page to turn to in the hymnal. You not only do not hear what page it is, but you don’t recognize the music when the piano, organ, or band begin playing.

When you try to explain to people that you can’t hear as well in church, they say, “Well you have a hearing aid! Are you sure it’s on?” Or, “You have a cochlear implant now! I thought your hearing was fixed!” Until you have a hearing loss, it’s impossible to explain what it is like to live with one.

Perhaps that is why organizations like HLAA are so important to people like myself. To know there are others who truly understand. Wow. A balm of “Gilead”.

But as long as there are churches who are willing to try… willing to make church a place a late-deafened person can once again come to in order to worship, I am encouraged!

Certainly worship can take place at home… alone. But corporate worship is something that God has intended for all of us… to grow us, and to allow us a place to minister and serve.

I hope more churches try to make their services accessible. In October I was in Odessa, Texas speaking at a conference. I was eating a quick lunch with a table of about six ladies. Someone brought up church, and how hard it was to hear there. Another agreed, and admitted that she no longer even tried. “The best I have now is watching church on t.v. with closed captioning. GOING to church is a thing of my past”. I looked around the table and saw tears in every eye. We’ve all experienced it. We were all saddened by it. We all miss it.

And yet… as long as there are churches like Summit Trace Church who are willing to TRY – a church that wants to open their doors to those who have not been able to corporately worship in years, I know that church is still a place for me.

My pastor always ends his emails with:

How can I serve you?
Bill

He already has.

Can YOU serve the people in your own congregation who no longer hear well enough to feel a part of the service? There may be several people in YOUR church who long to serve, long to connect, and long to make a difference for Christ. Will you give them that chance? Can your church open their doors once again to these people?

Denise Portis
©2006 Hearing Loss Diary

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