How you can help make sure your digital church is accessible

First published on: 9th April 2020

This week, Rev Dr Hannah Lewis, Pioneer Minister with the Deaf Community outlines how your parishioners who are disabled or deaf may be affected during the COVID-19 and how to help.
Deaf and disabled people who are vulnerable on health grounds or who already have care needs will hopefully be receiving the support they need at this time from ongoing provision. There may be changes to what councils are providing; some care packages may be reduced. While care agencies are among those struggling financially and in terms of people resources.
Those people who normally would be completely independent may be struggling with daily life under the current circumstances as many things have closed or collapsed. For example, the textphone relay service used by many has closed. British Sign Language (BSL) users have access via video relay, but the large number of deaf people who don’t sign won’t have access to the phone to call GPs.

Reduced public transport, or the fear of using it, will be creating additional barriers to those who want to go shopping. As will challenges over physical distancing for visually impaired people. Those people who are normally completely independent will be finding it hard to access the systems set up to support vulnerable people. If you are normally independent asking for help is exceptionally hard. Please look out for those you know have a disability and see if they need a bit of extra help at this time.
With so much worship and pastoral care moving online or by phone people with hearing (and other) impairments who might have managed fine in church may not be able to access what you are offering. There are a few simple things you can do to help.
When you're uploading prerecorded worship, use YouTube and enable the automatic subtitles. If you have a small amount of time it’s quite easy to amend them so they are accurate). Or use software to create permanent subtitles.

For a short tutorial to how to add subtitles or captions on YouTube, this video may help.

For Facebook videos, make sure you have turned captions on. You’ll find out how to do this here.

Your caption settings will only apply to videos you watch on a computer. You can also add captions to videos you’ve already uploaded to Facebook. Find out more here

People who watch your Facebook Page's video with the sound turned off will automatically see captions. People who watch your video with the sound turned on will need to turn on captions to see them. The language people see captions in is determined by their preferred language.
Facebook also has information about accessibility and you can find out the about the features and technologies that help people with disabilities, such as vision loss and deafness, get the most out of Facebook here.

 For Zoom meetings, you can find out how to add closed captions here. But you’ll need someone to write them.
For videos where there won’t be any subtitles or captions, such as Facebook Live or Zoom meeting where there's no-one available to write captions, provide links to text copies of the act of worship. If the worship is unscripted then make sure you include written Bible references, a note of the hymns. Anything written will assist people with hearing issues to feel included. As one in seven of the population has some kind of hearing impairment, you definitely have somebody in your church who will benefit from this.
Lipreading and/or hearing via Zoom is much harder than when meeting face-to-face, especially when there are more than two people in the group. So use small groups and/or text chat boxes to include people.
How Hannah can help

If you have any questions about the accessibility of what you offer online, for any form of disability, not just hearing disabilities, feel free to contact Hannah for advice/testing. If she doesn’t know the answer she will probably know someone who does.

If you have a funeral with a Deaf BSL user in the immediate family who are likely to be present at the funeral then Hannah can take the service (on your behalf and in partnership with you) to save you having to find a BSL interpreter and have an extra person present.
The easiest way to contact Hannah is via email or text message/ WhatsApp
M: 07919 411817

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