In today’s world, technology has great potential to make it easier for persons living with disabilities to participate in the body of Christ. That potential can be compromised, however, if congregations overlook the problems technology can present for people who see or hear less well than average.
The Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church, writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” People with disabilities may seem weaker to those who do not know them, but the gospel truth, as Paul suggests, is that they are indispensable to our faith communities.
Here are a few starting pointers on using technology to ensure that these indispensable members of the body of Christ are able to contribute their gifts. As you implement these suggestions, it is usually a good idea to ask individuals with disabilities in your congregation what would be most helpful for them.
- Make sure church website text is high contrast on a plain background. Using off-white instead of pure white will reduce glare. Red is often the hardest color to see for people with vision impairments.
- Provide captioning on videos. If you are using videos you have created, use a captioning program, such as the one provided by YouTube.
- Use text descriptions to make visual content available to people with vision impairments who use a screen reader. Provide all photos and images with alternate text descriptions.
- Provide a text-only alternative for visually presented interactive formats (e.g. maps, drop-down menus).
Technology in print
- Many congregations have begun to offer worship bulletins in large-print format for those with vision limitations. What about newsletters and meeting agendas? Large type is defined as font size 18 point or larger. A sans serif font such as Arial (used in this article) has highest visibility.
- Offer alternate formats for newsletters and church bulletins, as needed. Common alternate formats include large print, Braille, audio and E-text. Add a notice in standard-format materials stating that alternate formats are available.
- A text file of the worship bulletin or meeting agenda sent in advance may be read on an iPad or other electronic device. This enables people with low vision to make the text as large as needed. It is also useful in low light conditions, for example candlelight services.
- Encourage a congregational culture that assumes all speakers in medium-sized and large group gatherings need amplification, regardless of how loudly speakers talk or how self-conscious they are.
- Provide FM assistive listening devices. Post signs to let guests know they are available. Headphones rather than earbuds are preferable since they can be used without removing hearing aids. Test equipment regularly and keep it in good repair.
- In addition, consider installing hearing loop technology that allows persons with receiver-equipped hearing aids to receive the audio stream by direct broadcast.
- Offer print or E-text copies of sermons and spoken elements of worship to those with hearing impairments so they can follow along.
- Plan for accessibility in any gatherings in which a projector is used: worship, meetings, etc.
- Turn on captioning for videos, when it is available, so that the audience can both see and hear the words. Add captioning to videos you create.
- For projected text, use a plain background and high contrast text, and a sans serif font. Off-white is preferable to pure white for reducing glare. Lay out words in meaningful chunks of text, 15 to 20 words per screen, 50 to 80 point font.
- Offer alternate formats for those who find it difficult to read from the screen.
- Consider reserved seating in front for people who need to be close to the screen.
Inclusion Handbook: Everybody Belongs, Everybody Serves, Terry DeYoung and Mark Stephenson, eds.
Church Website Accessibility
Low vision resources: Using Computers for Inclusive Worship
Hearing resources: Information on Hearing Loops