Did you know that more than 55% of Australians experience some level of visual impairment? And 1 in 10 Australians experience complete or partial hearing loss? In fact, statistically, 49% of all people in your church over the age of 75 have a long-term hearing disorder. That means that well over half of the people in your church services could be missing out in some way due to sensory impairments.
What are sensory impairments?
People with sensory impairments experience difficulties in seeing, hearing or communicating. Right now, people in your church might have trouble reading the screen or could miss out on images in church services. People in your church might find it difficult to hear or follow conversations, especially in busy or noisy fellowship spaces. So, what effect is this having on people growing in faith and building community in your church?
Sensory disabilities can also be made worse by a lack of awareness.
Charlie Jacobsen, a Salvation Army pastor who has hearing loss and wears hearing aids, shared that when he came to a new church they had a sign advertising a hearing loop. But when he got inside, no one knew where to sit for the loop to function and it turned out that it didn’t even work. It was not set up when they updated the church sound system.
These sorts of oversights make people with sensory disabilities feel unwelcome and unimportant. But, when we thoughtfully, intentionally seek to include those with disabilities, we can instead make our brothers and sisters feel respected, loved and at home.
Tips to help include people with sensory impairments
Even really simple, easy changes can make a big difference. Here are a few top tips:
- Always introduce yourself (and the group) so that a person with low vision knows who is speaking.
- Describe written material or pictures used in any meeting or church service.
- Ask what written material people prefer (e.g., Braille, large print or electronic format) or what makes the big screen easiest to read and be prepared to make design changes.
- If a person can lip read, make sure they can see your lips and speak clearly. Be careful not to turn around to “face the whiteboard” while talking.
- Print out hard copies of notes (sermons, Bible study questions etc.) so people with hearing loss can follow along.
We can all make our church more accessible – if we are willing to make changes.
Introducing accessible graphic design, printing copies of sermons and describing images up on the screen all require extra effort. But when we know and value the people with disabilities in our communities, these small acts of love can help people feel included and participate fully in the life of our churches.
For more information
Learn more about including people with sensory impairments by watching Graeme’s story on disability inclusion and the church or reading Elena’s reflection on Strength in Weakness.