This post is referred to in Chapter 9: Independent Socializing of my new book When You Can’t Believe Your Eyes: Vision Loss and Personal Recovery, a How To guide for people losing sight and their friends published this month, including accessible versions.
Churches, temples and mosques are charitable places where people want to be helpful, but the word disability may suggest wheelchair ramps, not prayers available on your phone or tablet.
With vision problems you might benefit from the ramp too, but however beautiful the music or uplifting the sacred words, following the texts in a service and joining the hymns, chants and responses is a central part of worship; your voice joining with everyone else.
In some churches a large print order of service is available, but this is more useful to people who see fairly well. For someone with significant vision impairment this “large print” may be very small!
How will you go about getting access to the words for worship? Unless there has been a trail-blazer at your place of worship it may take time.
If you are new to a parish there are often greeters or a Welcome Committee who will be helpful with finding you a seat, and maybe a ride to the service too. And at first you might find comfort and support just listening to the readings and prayers. Or you might prefer joining the community in other ways such as going to a parish breakfast, helping with small children, or attending seminars on diversity or disability. Small groups are always less visual and more verbal, so finding a group of six or eight may be a good way to make contacts and begin friendships.
When you are new people often want to talk to you, but that can fade after a while because in a large group or a large hall people make contact with their eyes before speaking. This applies to meeting as you enter the church or in a gathering after the service such as a coffee hour. (Best coffee hour tactic may be standing by the snack table and chatting to anyone nearby.)
When you are ready to be assertive about accessibility you may want to proceed on your own perhaps using one of the references at the end of this post. If you want to work through your place of worship you need the answer to this important question: Who is the person here who knows everyone and organizes things? This will not necessarily be the priest, rabbi or rector. It may be the paid administrator or a church member who is the linchpin. This is the person to get to know and if possible begin making into a friend.
Once you have explained to her or him that available books are inaccessible, you can ask about:
- Getting the correct name and edition of the prayer and hymn books used at your place of worship, and asking this knowledgeable person if there is a digital format available, while searching online yourself.
- If you can read email, then ask for someone who will send you the Order of service several days ahead. If you use speech to read then an image file such as a pdf won’t work. Ask for a word document or similar. This is a more than reasonable request so don’t give up! With prodding most parishes will try to provide something to assist your participation in worship.
- You can read the words in advance, or even during the service using an earbud, larhge print on a tablet, or a braille device
- If emails aren’t available to you just now, then ask for someone who will phone you at an agreed time each week and read through the order of service etc.
- Ask for the first lines of hymns in advance so you can listen to them on YouTube or read the words on www.hymnary.org.
- Some musical people like to join the choir and use recordings of the hymns and chants to learn the words and music
- The Catholic and the Jewish faiths have well-established institutions serving people with vision loss check the end of this post for details
A structured service which is nearly the same each week, or follows a definite rotation is much easier to manage than a changing or innovative service.
People of Islamic faith may be the latest to think about the problem of access to worship. Here is a quote from Religious News Service: Yadira was able to read the Quran for herself only when she was proofreading her own braille rendering of an English translation. “I actually cried,” she said. “I’m a reader by nature. Going from being Muslim for about a decade and never having read the Quran, the word of Allah, to actually giving this amazing opportunity to other blind people…”More at Religious News . Buddhist and Hindu faiths are also newer in the US. Both have plenty of material online provided you can access it. I have spent many frustrated hours listening to everyone else read passages from the Bible and other sacred texts before I found how to read it for myself. (Even then the scholarly editions aren’t necessarily available.)
There are smartphone (and tablet) apps for the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist faiths. Ask friends about favorites and then check for accessibility.
Can you improve this post with more resources from different faiths and denominations? Please add a comment so we can all benefit from your knowledge.
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Jewish Braille Institute International
Toll Free: 1-800-433-1531
Large print, audio and braille version of liturgy for all Jewish denominations
Xavier Society for the Blind (Catholic)
Readings, prayers and responses for Sunday Mass and major feast days
Audio disk or braille, goal of getting audio content onto Talking Books.
Catholic app “Laudate” is fully accessible, with a wealth of content.
Pocket-sized talking Bible, Lutheran Braille Evangelism Association:
Phone: 651-426-0469 or 651-447-2195. Has phone keypad layout with simple access to book, chapter, and verse. Available in fifteen versions.
Make sure the voice has been updated before buying.
The UU church has all the words to hymns available if you search for: Songbooks and hymnals for Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Search online at the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) for the Bible and other sacred writings.