A Silent Dividing Wall

by Linda Sey

Over the past several months, we have learned about various ‘dividing walls’ we can work to tear down and focused on the ‘9 Minute Golden Window’ of opportunity to meet and connect with others on Sunday mornings. Previously, we also learned the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community is a largely unreached population spiritually (~2% Christian), due in part to the general lack of equal access to communication within many churches. Furthermore, we announced that due to an ongoing and explicitly requested need, High Point Church would begin offering a monthly interpreted ASL service and will seek to add more interpreted services as those willing to do so come forward.

The dividing wall of hearing loss is largely silent and invisible. Because it isn’t as visually obvious as a wheelchair, prosthetic, or red and white cane can be, this disability is often all around us, yet often goes unnoticed. The world of deafness often leads to isolation, exclusion, loneliness, and feeling invisible, even as one who is deaf is surrounded by a crowd of people, be it friends, family, coworkers, or fellow churchgoers. Those with significant hearing loss learn to laugh, smile, and nod along, often mentally spinning their wheels to do an immense amount of detective work, guessing, and bluffing, to appear to fit in and understand what is being said or what is going on. Conversations with their hearing counterparts are often limited to the most superficial, concrete, “small talk”, since anything deeper leaves both parties at a loss as to how to bridge the language barrier, or ‘wall’.

The good news is, with a little education and intentional effort, these ‘walls’ aren’t so impossible to break down after all! This blog post focuses on two pragmatic ways YOU can actively break down walls for our Deaf/Hard of Hearing congregants at High Point Church.

THE GOLDEN WINDOW

Particularly on ASL interpreted Sundays (first Sunday of each month, second service), but ultimately ANY place or time you find yourself within proximity to someone Deaf/Hard of Hearing, you can use the following strategies to communicate with them as much as you would with anyone else, even if you don’t know or are not fluent in sign language:

  • Use your smartphone or tablet to type back and forth with each other, with no need to actually send the messages if not desired. Just show the screen to each other (for your part, you can use speech to text if you prefer)
  • Use a direct messaging app even while face to face (Facebook Messenger, Skype Chat, Google Hangouts, etc)
  • Use good old fashioned pen/paper to write back and forth (the church pews always have paper for sermon notes and spare pens available)
  • When available, utilize a Sign Language Interpreter. Just approach them and let them know you would like them to interpret your conversation.
  • Keep a small dry erase board handy, write back and forth, and easily erase for more space.

CAPTIONING NEED

We live in an age where creating and viewing videos is as common as the air we breathe. Technology is wonderful, and allows us to access more than ever before. However, when such videos do not have reliable captions/subtitles, this creates yet another dividing wall for Deaf/Hard of Hearing individuals. Try this challenge: Select your favorite upcoming tv show episode or newly released movie (one you haven’t already seen), and mute the sound. Watch for at least 5 minutes, and see how much you understand, and how much you enjoy it. Then for the next few minutes, randomly unmute for just a second or two at a time, allowing for a word or syllable to break through. Pretty frustrating, right? Mentally draining? Confusing? Boring? If the device’s sound system was permanently broken or malfunctioning, you would likely give up on it altogether and look to replace it. It wouldn’t be worth your time. This is what those with hearing loss face all too often. There are many increasing laws mandating captioning/subtitles for most of society, however, those laws still have their limits. And they certainly can’t regulate every individual video created/posted by the individual user.

There are over 100 empirical studies which have repeatedly confirmed that consistently offering captions/subtitles helps far more people than just those with hearing loss. Exposure to captions/subtitles increases literacy for all, from early childhood through late adulthood. Those without a native English background can better understand and process when they can both hear and see the information. Additionally, people who are visual learners have the information processed in a way that connects better for them, rather than solely auditorily. And of course, that random distraction or background noise that caused you to miss hearing what was just said is not as big a deal when you can read it on the screen and quickly get caught up. Research also shows that both attention to and retention of the content increases with the addition of captions/subtitles. A lesser-known benefit is that videos with captions/subtitles are much more searchable by browser search engines, since the text is what search engines go by. So if you want your video (or podcast) more easily found by the general population, adding captions is a great way to boost visibility!

High Point Church often creates short videos to highlight upcoming events, share testimonies, make announcements, and more. Church staff have very limited time and resources for adding captions to all those videos. There are two ways you can assist with this.

First, if you are creating a video, please plan ahead for additional time in the creation and editing process and create the captions/subtitles upfront. If each person making a video takes ownership of this, it will be far more efficient than one person doing all the captioning of all the videos for everyone after the fact (which is nearly impossible with our current resources). From a technological standpoint, is is also a more simple and efficient process to caption upfront, before a video is published/finalized, rather than adding them afterwards.

Secondly, HPC is seeking volunteers willing to be asked as needed to add captions/subtitles to videos that others have created. You don’t need to have prior experience doing this. High Point will gladly provide the training and tools necessary to do so. If you can type and navigate a computer, you can quickly and easily learn. You can likely even do this from home! This is a tremendous need, so if you are at all interested, please contact High Point Church (info@highpointchurch.org) or myself, and we will talk it through with you in more detail.

For more on the topic of why Sign Language interpretation is so important, check out Linda’s previous article: Why Sign Language Interpreting at High Point Church.

Note: High Point Church is still in need of more ASL Interpreters and has a stipend available for those interested. Please continue to spread the word!

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