Is your church fully accessible to members and visitors with disabilities? When I ask that question, you probably think of accessible bathrooms and automatic front doors, and no steps. My church meets all these requirements, but until I joined a few years ago, no thought was given to making things accessible to visually impaired worshipers.
When I belonged to the Methodist church, the church purchased a whole set of Braille hymnals. It was a loose leaf binder, so I would find out what hymns were going to be sung that Sunday, and take out those pages and carry them to church with me, instead of lugging four volumes of Braille. That worked well. However, when I joined the Good Samaritan ReformedchurchofAmerica, I discovered that they didn’t use hymnals, but a monitor that showed the words on a screen. In jest, I would call it the “follow the bouncing ball” method. Consequently, I was left standing there humming along instead of singing, which was disappointing. Then I thought, wait a minute. Those words had to be produced by some computer. How about if they send those words to me in an email. Then I could send them to my Braille printer, and then carry them to church to use during the service. After a little tweaking of the process, it works beautifully.
I am now one of the song leaders, and although it’s quite noticeable that I am reading Braille as I stand up in front of the congregation, it apparently doesn’t look as strange as I had feared. It just takes a little planning ahead. When I attend practices, I record the whole thing on my Victor Reader Stream, a wonderful little digital book player and recorder. I can put book marks in at the beginning of each song, so I can skip to one that I especially need to practice. My church has been helpful in two other significant ways. One of the members, Ken, who is an architect, made a raised line map of the layout of the church, including the gathering area, the worship area, the offices, and the classrooms. It really helped me get a picture in mind of what the building looked like. The treasurer, Julie, sends me the treasurer’s report in an email. Because I have a screen reader on my computer, which translates print into synthesized speech, I can come to congregational meetings having already read the minutes and the treasurer’s report. It really gives me a sense of inclusion.
Here is a stunning example of how technology and good old hard copy Braille work together to enrich my life.