by Linda Sey
Hearing loss and deafness are largely invisible and isolating disabilities. Those with hearing loss learn at a very young age to mimic, nod, and laugh along, often completely lost as to the details, if not all, of the dialogue darting around them at breakneck speeds. They laugh at jokes they don’t hear (and therefore don’t understand), they nod yes in feigned understanding, wanting to fit in and be accepted, or thinking sincerely they truly did understand, because in reality, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’
“But, deaf people do speech therapy, talk, and learn to be really great lip readers, so it all works out in the end, right?!” Contrary to popular belief, the English language, at best has only 50% (and at worst, 30%) of the phonetic sounds formed and made visible on the speaker’s lips. This means ‘I love you’, ‘olive juice’, and ‘elephant shoes’ appear identically on the lips, as do the phrases ‘you have talent’ and ‘you have salad’.
While many with hearing loss still rely on attempting to lipread, along with a host of other tricks in the tool bag to puzzle communication together, it is exhausting work, and leaves them at a disadvantage to their hearing counterparts. However, visual language provides full access, with richer 3D conceptual meaning, making the information much more accessible—and accessible in a far more efficient way. For those who have learned sign language, having interpreting makes the content around them visually accessible, thereby eliminating many barriers.
Due to federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), most public venues are legally obligated to provide sign language interpreting upon request, which has been a great propulsion of advancement within the deaf and hard of hearing community. However, for many understandable reasons rooted in separation of church and state, religious entities (such as churches) are exempt from all regulation on providing interpreters. End result? The church is one of the least accessible places in the community for those with hearing loss. Even when a church provides interpretation, many well intentioned interpreters simply are not qualified or credentialed, and are unskilled language conveyors to the deaf community. Hence, many deaf individuals grow up disliking church—finding it boring, meaningless, and unwelcoming. They go along to please their family members, understanding little to none of the content of the message the church is there to share, and not building personal connections and having a sense of community or belonging. And therefore, not growing and being discipled in Christ. As a result, most statistics indicate only 2% of those with significant hearing loss identify in any way as Christian, know who Christ is, or what the Gospel is about.
Only 2% of those with significant hearing loss identify in any way as Christian, know who Christ is, or what the Gospel is about.
High Point Church currently has a member of the deaf community in regular attendance, missing most of what is being said. There are others that have expressed a desire to attend, if interpreting is available. And there are more in our church body at High Point Church who are growing up with significant hearing loss. The need for quality sign language interpreting within the church is real and present. For that reason, we are exploring where God will lead in this area, by starting with the resources we have available to us. One of our High Point Church members is credentialed as an interpreter by profession. Therefore, we will offer interpreting starting April 7th, (second service) the first Sunday of each month, while also hoping to add more qualified Interpreters (and therefore more Sundays) to a rotational schedule as God provides in the future.
What can you do? Pray that God would lead as we work toward creating a Deaf Ministry at High Point Church. Pray that he will bring more Interpreters to High Point willing to join the rotational schedule. Spread the word to those in the deaf/hard of hearing community, so they have a place to feel welcome and learn and grow. Finally, if you have questions related to deafness, hearing loss, sign language, interpreting, etc, share them with us, and we may just answer them in future blogs!