The Sight Loss Friendly Church!

Well... We've finally done it... We are now part of the Sight Loss Friendly Church!
 
Welcome to our challenge and to what will be the start of something amazing, a guiding light so support churches in Wales and our communities within our churches.

From the Webmaster.
"Lew"

Today, more than ever, Accessibility for disabled people within churches matters more and more. The challenge however is a very difficult one indeed.  Over the many years that I have been blind, 21 years exactly Monday 15th February, Church life has presented me with a number of major challanges, These have not been easy. Over the years, I've worked for a number of churches as an organist in England, including where I was based with University in Birmingham, as well as projects in Liverpool and Cheshire, etc. As a member of the congregation, it has been somewhat of a struggle trying to "fit in" and it's not just me, many people with disabilities, whether directly obvious or not, go through these barriers.

Church life means many things to many people, for me it's always meant a number of things... as a chorister before becoming fully blind, I was sight impaired, I was able, with some adaptive resources, to study music score and engage, being the chorister I then was. As a member of the church, I've read the sermons and been involved in the services, both sight impaired and blind, as an organist, fully blind, between college and university and then after. 

The challenges faced as an example, with sight loss, they come in different forms. Whether it's a tactile layout without trip hazards for a white cane or guide dog, tactile signs (raised print / Braille), through to engaging with bibles and hymnals. I will openly admit that in a number of churches, the support I needed, I never received, which made me fight harder each time to find the right support to allow me to undertake my duties and e a part of church life.

For someone like me, technology plays a vital part in proceedings, now more than ever. The practicalities of carrying braille based versions of the bible aren't viable, same with hymnals. There are digital versions available and a great wealth of transcriptions out there now, thanks to organisations like the Torch Trust, RNIB Document transcription Services, amongst other resources like Online and software based bibles, Audio resources and more. These are resources which will support churches where if there is a member or members of the congregation who are sight impaired, or blind, whether young or old. Don't say that young people don't go blind, you can become blind at birth, any time in your life, through age based macular degeneration, through to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Cataracts, you name it, Diabetes can also, if unmanaged, affect sight.  For me, I was born visually impaired, poor sight, 15 years of operations, treatments, contact lenses / glasses, etc, then one day, I was attacked, from that day I became fully blind, it's like seeing nothing but pure black all around you constantly. that's how I like to describe it to anyone who asks, rather than saying "It's like nothing".

Accessibility for anyone with a sight impairment means the right support. To give you an idea of what  is available when it comes to what would be needed in a church service, here's a good idea for you.

Sight Impaired:
Reading aids such as optical or digital magnification aids, reading glasses, large print / large print non-white background adapted bibles / hymnals, etc. smartphone / tablet with magnification software and adapted resources in digital format

Blind:
Scanning hardware such as an OrCam read, smartphone / tablet with either built in or third party screen reading software (software which speaks out text / provides braille support), braille display (connects to smartphone / tablet / computer), DAISY book reader or similar talking book device, etc.  Software including online / digital bibles, hymnals, etc. For mobility, a long cane (white cane) or guide dog or where mobility impaired, a friend / carer able to support.

There are some amazing resources available, a few I'm  going to share here in order to spread awareness of these valuable causes and how they support those of us with sight impairments in church life... Here's just a few to get you started, but there's more, from hymnals in accessible formats, resources for blind organists and more besides. The challenge is to make churches in England and Wales aware of this, spread the word and spread the light.


I wanted to share a rather amazing online / digital bible which you can use with your smartphone such as an iPhone / iPad / iPod touch, Android device or Kindle Fire (although I have no experience of Kindle devices for accessibility for blind users). for the iOS platform, This is the bible I would recommend, It's simply called "Bible" and is available through this website... https://www.bible.com/app. The beauty of this piece of software is that you can download any known version of the bible and in doing so, with a screen reader, you can navigate through and have it spoken, You can use this offline after setting it up with the bible volumes you want, or use it online and have certain bibles play recorded spoken bible verse, either way, this is an accessible and easy to use app for blind and visually impaired people. I would highly recommend it. Of course, I will be reviewing and recommending other such apps in due course, but for this present moment, this is worth considering.

As you read this, I'd like to ask you to picture yourself / imagine yourself  in a state where  you see no light or everything is hazed, complete blurr, etc. Think of how your daily life as a sighted person was, to what you're faced with  in your perception of sight impairment / loss, Think of what you would not be able to do, such as drive a car, read a book, see the face of someone you know or love, look at the sun, moon and stars, etc, achieve the basics that a sighte person can do. I would ask that with this, think of what you are feeling, how you are feeling, with that, I would hope and pray that your awareness is heightened.

So, my reason for this post is simple...

I am campaigning for better support for accessibility in Churches in Wales, from website design and integration of services, to how services can be provided through each diocese and supporting churches, to training for vicars / priests, etc in disability awareness and how to support members of the congregation in need.

When I became part of this church and was asked for my input on the church website, I realised a number of crucial issues affecting the original website, this is why this particular website exists. It is designed to support anyone visiting the website, but is also there to support those with sight impairments and poses as a model for an "inclusive" website design.

There are challenges ahead which I aim, with the support of our church and our amazing Vicar Revd. David Ash, that we can demonstrate how a church could therefore become more inclusive to disabled users.

I'm pleased that our churches including Christ Church and Church of the Holy Spirit here in Prestatyn, feature wheelchair access and hearing loop systems, but we are a long way off from being able to truly support those with sight loss, etc. It is important to provide these services and adaptations as not to exclude.

To exclude someone from joining in  / participating in a service or event on grounds of a disability where there is lack of support or poor / non-provision of services to assist, is ethically, morally and legally wrong and should not happen.

So, Over time, further work will go in to making this website even more supportive, to become a roadmap to share with other churches.

What people don't realise about sight loss is this... Just because the eyes have stopped working, it doesn't mean that a person without sight cannot achieve to a considered standard of that of a sighted person, a person with sight impairment as an example should be supported to be part of the community to a point where, with the right resources, confidence and most of all faith, anything can be achieved.

So, while I'm here, I'll share the start of some useful resources for anyone with visual impairment / severe visual impairment / blindness, etc...




 In today's church life, we're supposed to be and do focus on making our churches inclusive. It's a huge challenge which requires understanding, patience and guidance. The word "Inclusion" is very broad spectrum, but in that open space of the spectrum, some points of focus are often overlooked or forgotten.

If you think of the average congregation within any church, our most important within our congregation are elderly, with that in mind, it is most common that hearing, mobility and visual impairment is faced by many. The issue also comes when a younger generation, folk like me who have lost their sight at a young age, we're also in that spectrum, but a little rarer in that particular share of the congregation.

There are many challenges faced by church members with visual impairment and sight loss, with these challenges, people can feel left out and put to a side, It's time that changed and changed for the better.

Think of what it would be like for you reading this post if all of a sudden, from good sight, to losing visual acuity, or total loss of sight, think of how that would be for you within a church community where your friends and those around you can see a screen or even the print of the bible or hymnal, or even pew sheets, etc, think of how you'd feel if you couldn't interact and engage.

Today's churches are legally required to including hearing loops to support hearing impaired and registered deaf members of the public, just as retailers and other areas. The same is said for the legal requirement for Wheelchair friendly access, where churches must provide access to entrances with ramp installations. Sadly though, Today's churches face problems of accessibility in providing the right support for blind and sight impaired people, usually meaning that rather than a church or diocese being directly involved in supporting sight impaired and blind members of the church, it's deferred to "Social Services" upon their discretion. 

This is where the Torch Trust comes in, a charity who supports Blind and sight impaired people who want to be part of church life, steps in. From courses, to advice to church leaders and bodies, etc, this charity can be the eyes to the blind and a guiding hand to those who should support those in need.

So, for more details on what the Torch Trust does, Why not visit

Text reads: “Every blind or partially sighted person should have the opportunity to: EXPLORE Christian faith and DISCOVER JESUS, GROW as a Christian, Enjoy a fulfilling DEVOTIONAL LIFE, ACCESS THE CHRISTIAN RESOURCES AND ACTIVITIES they need, JOIN A CHURCH of their choice, Develop their invaluable GOD-GIVEN GIFTING, CONTRIBUTE to thelife of the church.”  TORCH TRUST exists to enable people with sight loss to discover Christian faith andlead fulfilling Christian Lives. Torch provides Christian resources and activities for blind and partially sighted people worldwide.  www.torchtrust.org. Telephone: 01858 438260. Registered Charity No: 1095904.


There are many resources available, from braille editions of the bible, large print versions, Audio / Talkibng Bibles, to other adaptive resources available.

It is my strong belief as a member of the church, that all churches should be and must be aware of their duty to provide support to those who require that support, where the support should be offered through each Diocese for funding / support where it is needed and also to spread awareness of what's involved and how sight loss / visual impairment affects  members of our churches today and what can be done to make a positive change. 

So... What can you do to make a change for the better for your church?

I encourage any vicar, priest or leader of any church to visit www.torchtrust.org and enquire about the "Sight Loss Friendly Church"and also the "Worship For All" scheme.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article from me.

All the best...

Lew.
Web Admin for Prestatyn Church In Wales.


This is the playlist for the Torch Trust. An inspiring, informative and encouraging resource to support those of us with sight loss or visual impairment within our churches. Why not sit back, get to know the Torch Trust and how we at Prestatyn Church In Wales are now engaging in and setting the pace for what we can do to improve the lives of the visually impaired and blind community in our churches.