Deaf-Centered Topics

Every faith should be accessible for the deaf

I had a dream once, an actual dream, where I died and went to Heaven and they made me hearing again. I was angry in this dream and demanded my deafness back, because it was a part of who I am. Not the entirety of my Self, but a part that may be more integral than I’d ever thought.

The funny thing was, around the time I had this dream, I was pretty much still an atheist. I’d been an atheist throughout my youth, but philosophically leaned on the teachings of the Buddha, as introduced to me by my father. I loved Buddhism, and I still do more than ever, which is why today it remains a major part of who I am. Yet I was an atheist then, for many years, and I had this dream.

Background image by Gabriel Garcia Marengo via Unsplash
Background image by Gabriel Garcia Marengo via Unsplash

Perhaps that was an early sign of my beginning to have faith in God. Yet my faith evolves over the years, and you can’t really put a label on it. I draw inspiration from a wide variety of religions, because I truly believe that all religions come from divine inspiration in some measure. I draw inspiration from mythology as well, as Joseph Campbell did. I draw inspiration from science, because I believe that science gives a glimpse into how utterly amazing creation is and, to me, is one of the greatest ways to prove the existence of a Creator.

It should be no surprise that I fit right in with Unitarian Universalists, a growing religion that includes people who believe in a wide variety of faiths. We have Christians, Buddhists, Jewish, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, and more. The UUs have been, at times, ridiculed as being a catch-all, but the truth is that UUs honor each person’s individual spiritual journey, whether rooted in a belief in the divine or through the scientific lens.

But this post isn’t about me or about Unitarian Universalists. I share the above information to give readers a sense of where I am coming from and so that you understand I’m not out to change anyone’s religion or to make an atheist believe in God in any shape. I simply do not believe it’s required, and I respect everyone’s choice.

Here’s why I am writing about this:

I strongly feel that a deaf person’s religious beliefs or doubts should not be based on accessibility. A person should not be limited to information based on which church has ASL interpretation or a deaf congregation. All faiths should be accessible. All churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, fellowships should be accessible for the deaf.

The law doesn’t require it, and I’m not suggesting the law should be changed. Access needs to be given because it is the right thing to do. In this way, a person can make an informed choice about what beliefs really feel right.

I’m not Christian, but I’m able to tell a Christian stories that I know from the Bible that he’s never heard of, because his church was never accessible for him. He was told a generic idea of what Christianity is and what to believe, but he can’t really explain what it all means. I believe he has the right to know these stories, to understand them, and to believe them if that’s what resonates in his heart. I say the same for other religions, though I’m not well-versed in most.

A few religions have gone the extra mile to make their services accessible, which is great. I have no problem with that, but what bothers me personally is that it creates a scenario where deaf individuals will gravitate toward wherever is most accessible and let their access to information be the sole deciding factor. I feel that if all places of religion made their services accessible, then our minds will be able to connect with our spirits in that mysterious way where we suddenly have these moments where we feel connected. Truly connected. Connected in a way where we can live our faith by our actions and not just our words.

And if someone decides that she feels most at home being an atheist, I really don’t have a problem with that. I think the Universe is so amazing, that simply cherishing existence is a sacred act. Seeing the astounding and intricate details of beauty in everything science reveals to us is reverent. Does that make sense?

So what does this mean, to provide access? It means that we do what we can to include a budget for sign language interpreters, if possible. It means that we remember that people age, and as they age, hearing declines. Late-deafened Seniors who spent their entire lives going to Sunday services slowly find themselves left out. This should not happen. We need to find ways to make the services accessible, such as with real-time captioning or FM systems.

I believe that all places of religion should not wait for a deaf person to walk through the door before developing a rough plan. Have a budget for accessibility needs. Find out where local interpreting services are provided and ask about costs. Look into FM systems that are hearing aid compatible, look into real-time captioning equipment. It’s not necessary to have all of this in advance, but to prepare for the possibility. Then when the day comes where a new deaf attendee shows up and needs that access, you ask that person what is needed.

If you can picture in your mind the greatest spiritual leader of your own faith, imagine how that person, whether divine or not, would treat a deaf individual. I’m sure you can guess.

A message cannot be given clearly and accurately if it’s not given with full access, and what better message that the one you believe is the most important?

J. Parrish Lewis was born and raised in Maryland. In his youth there, he and his brother had many adventures in the dogwood forests near his home. His nostalgia for these adventures has strongly influenced his characters, their relationships, and their perspective on the world they inhabit. He moved to California’s coast to earn his degree in communications and now lives with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Lewis is profoundly deaf and uses American Sign Language to communicate. He enjoys hazelnut coffee, captioned movies, and walking his dog.

2 Comments

  • BA J JSmith

    Hey J. My husband and I totally agree with you. Lack of accessibility is one of reason why we do not belong to any church. The church that has right accessibility for us didn’t feel right for us.

    Personality I would prefer ASL interpreter or real-time captioning (CART) over FM system.

    Well said my longtime friend ☺️

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