Resources for Parishes Welcoming Deaf and Hard of Hearing People
We want to welcome all people into the life of our diocese, parishes, and chaplaincies, but when it comes to parishioners and visitors who are Deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have other sensory disabilities we might feel unprepared or overwhelmed. But help and resources are available. The following brief summaries are meant to explain the basics of accessibility.
First of all, for matters listed below or any others not addressed here, please feel free to contact the Pastoral Missioner for Deaf and Disabilities Ministries in the Canon Pastor’s office.
Interpreters for People Who are Deaf
Sign language interpreters are usually professional individuals highly trained and skilled, and who are bilingual in English and American Sign Language (or other signed and spoken languages).
Hiring sign interpreters can be easy with a little bit of knowledge. There are two major ways that interpreters can be employed. An interpreter can be directly hired by an institution; these individuals are typically referred to as ‘freelance interpreters.’ The other option is hiring through an interpreter service agency. Using an agency will usually cost a little more. Interpreters work for an hourly fee (approximately $50-100/hour), with a two hour minimum. If you wish to use interpreters on a regular schedule, hiring an individual and negotiating the work and compensation can make this easier and more affordable.
Your best option for hiring an interpreter is to be sure the provider is certified. For a comprehensive review of hiring interpreters and an explanation of best professional practices, see https://www.rid.org/about-rid/about-interpreting/hiring-an-interpreter/.
Assistive Listening Devices and Systems for People Who are Hard-of-Hearing
There are many devices and systems available to make your services and meetings accessible to people with hearing loss. These may be categorized as follows:
- Inexpensive devices that can be worn by individuals, typically small receivers with a microphone and headphones or ear buds. These cost between $100-200 and are quite effective for amplifying and modulating the pitch of sound. They receive sound directly to the microphone and deliver it to the headphones. They are best for discussions in smaller spaces, but may be effective for some users in church service settings.
More expensive but enhanced approaches are available that can connect directly to existing public address systems in churches and other parish facilities. These systems can deliver amplified sound wirelessly to multiple individual receivers through handheld or lanyard-attached devices, which attendees can wear and control. Options include installing loop systems, RF or FM systems, or infrared systems. While these can cost thousands of dollars, they can also address challenges of many in a congregation who have a hearing loss. It is recommended that professional providers be consulted to consider the various options and prices to match your needs and budget.
Open Captioning for People Who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
This service is known by several names: open captioning (OC), CART captioning, or more generally, “live event captioning.” Open Captioning is a display of text of all of the words and sounds heard during a spoken service, meeting, or presentation. (You’ve probably seen something very similar, ‘closed captioning,’ on your TV set or videos on your computer.) This service is appropriate for people who are fluent in English. Services that provide OC can be done by professional individuals who are either on-site in a church or meeting room, or who produce the captioning remotely. Special equipment may be involved.
Internet meeting applications, such as Zoom, can autogenerate live captions to assist people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. Be sure to select options in these applications, before scheduling a meeting, to produce and turn on captioning for all your meetings. Also, videos created in streaming platforms such as YouTube can have captions automatically added during the uploading process. Be sure to select the options to create the captions for all your public videos.
For further information, see http://ccacaptioning.org/faqs-cart/.
New York State Relay
New York Relay Service is a statewide service that connects standard (voice) telephone users with people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, speech-disabled, or late-deafened and who use text telephones (TTYs) or voice carry-over (VCO) phones. Simply dial 711.
Complete information is available at http://www.nyrelay.com.
References and Resources
There are many publications that address the Church and people who are Deaf. Below is a small sample of offerings.
Eiesland, Nancy. (1994). The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Yates, Leo (2015). Deaf Ministry: Ministry Models for Expanding the Kingdom of God. (Kindle).
From a Deaf Episcopal priest:
Mahaffy, Richard. (2015). Theology Without Words: Deaf People, God, and the Church. EDS Now: Episcopal Divinity School (EDS).
From a hearing Episcopal Deacon, on request:
Bourquin, Eugene A. (2013). People Who are Deaf and Contemplative Practice: A Qualitative First Look at Video Data. Seminary paper.
Bourquin, Eugene A. (2013). Deaf People, Miracles, and the Early Middle Ages. Seminary paper.
The Pastoral Missioner for Deaf and Disabilities Ministry