Barriers within churches

Hello. My name is Susan Myatt. I'm a Deaf Baptist minister. I also work for the Diocese of Lichfield one day a week.

This question of barriers, there are many. One example is lipreading. When we're lipreading someone it's difficult because we only get 30% of the information, which is really hard. And what's worse is if someone is speaking and then walking up and down, we can't lipread them. We rely on body language, and some people have very expressive faces and other people don't and they are very hard to lipread. That's why we become tired. It's not easy.

Another problem we have is that we want a normal conversation with someone. And if we haven't understood something, we'll ask them to repeat and say, ‘what did you mean’? And they'll say, ‘oh, it doesn't matter. It's not important. I'll tell you later’ and they forget, and that becomes painful and you feel confidence sapped and you feel thick, and like the church doesn't value you. And that's a big problem. We see that happening there.

Another issue that happens again and again, is the labels people use. They might say, ‘oh, they're deaf and dumb’. That's not acceptable now. Or ‘they're stone deaf’. Again, that's not right. We have the appropriate correct terms. There's deaf, deafened, hearing and hard of hearing. That's all. We don't need these other labels. It's interesting that there are some songs that have old words there that just make my skin crawl; they're not good.

Another issue might be to do with prayer, which is tricky. People say, well, ‘close your eyes and pray’. And of course, we've got to keep our eyes open and watch the interpreter. And then there may be responsive prayers and we're always three or four sentences behind. And it's difficult for us. We never quite catch up. We're never at the right time. As we're trying to process things at the same time to match the actual prayer. And that is definitely tiring. It's not easy.

Another issue would be a video clip without subtitles. That means we've got to watch the interpreter and we miss information on the screen because it's impossible to watch the screen in the interpreter at the same time. Another problem would be sermons that go on for a long time. Our eyes get tired because we are watching the interpreter and taking on the information and processing it all the time. That's exhausting. So there are lots of barriers.

Maybe, additionally, if you want to go to a Bible study and there's no interpreter provided you feel the language is difficult to access. And for me personally, with some English words, I don't understand the meaning. I feel stupid asking someone ‘what does this word mean?’ Your confidence is lost and you feel you just want to withdraw.

But if you go to a deaf church, really, it's a deaf space with deaf culture, deaf identity. You can feel a real connection as you share together memories or whatever. And we're using a visual language together. We rely on visual resources and you feel more of a connection with each other and with God. And for me, the sermons are shorter. They're visual. And afterwards, yes, it's different style of things, but church is accessible for us. We can have conversations together and you feel a real sense of empathy there. It boosts confidence. Faith grows as we are together and with the Lord.

I want see Deaf people empowered to become leaders. God calls anyone to become a leader. Why not?

When we talk about the Bible and the English use there and how difficult it is for us to understand, there are metaphors that are really tricky that go over our heads. But soon there'll be a new website called the BSL Bible translation project. They're working on the Book of Mark, the Gospel, so there'll be some stories there. And it means that a church can download these stories and use them. And that'll give Deaf people, huge confidence. They can take on the information in their own sign language and things become clearer, and that is vital for us and also sharing Deaf stories that are so visual as well - we want more of that.

We want to encourage each other with His grace.

Posted in Disability Justice, Justice Hub.