Do you hear what I hear?
The issue of making worship accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing community in Scotland has been a significant concern, with research indicating that 1 in 6 people fall into this category. Dalziel St Andrew’s Parish Church in Motherwell took on the challenge from 2015 to 2020 as part of their Makeover Project – Forward for Jesus.
The church had already invested in technology for their worship services, including live streaming and catch-up options on YouTube. However, they recognized the need to incorporate the requirements of the deaf community into their services. They acknowledged the valuable work of the 3 Church of Scotland Ministers for the deaf and sought to explore how the internet could enhance accessibility for all deaf and hard of hearing worshippers.
To determine the demand for this service, a seminar was held with over 100 delegates registering to participate. It became clear that there was a strong demand for accessible worship services, with emotional pleas for a national service. The seminar also highlighted that different sections of the deaf and hard of hearing community had varying needs. Approximately one third relied on British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language, while others required English captions.
Trials were conducted to deliver a parallel service for the deaf alongside the regular live streaming. This involved a dedicated camera focused on a BSL Interpreter and a separate screen displaying the spoken words typed by an Electronic Notetaker. The trials proved successful, and a one-year pilot was carried out starting in 2015. The service was analysed to determine the number of viewers, both live and through recordings on YouTube. Efforts were made to publicize the availability of the service, including collaboration with the local Deaf Association and presentations to Presbytery.
Throughout the year, an average of 40 viewers accessed the service each week, with fewer users during quieter summer months but increased use during special occasions. The cost of maintaining the service was around £10,000 per year, which included hiring sessional helpers and covering their travel expenses. Grant funding from sources such as the Church of Scotland’s Go For It fund and Hamilton Presbytery (reduction in the annual Maintenance of Ministry allocation) supported the project.
Unfortunately, securing repeat grant funding became increasingly challenging, and the project had to be temporarily closed due to the onset of Covid 19. Recognising the difficulties in securing new funding, the decision was reluctantly made to halt the outreach. However, the church hopes that their efforts will inspire the wider church community to continue the work of inclusivity in worship for the deaf community. The team at Dalziel St Andrew’s are willing to share their experiences and support others in striving for inclusivity.
Alex Baird (Member of Scottish Churches Disability Group and Dalziel St Andrews Parish Church)