Communication and accessibility are basic human rights.
Will you join me in the fight for equality?
Will you join me in the fight for equality?
With the holidays quickly approaching, many of us will be attending get togethers with family and friends. Many of us look forward to sitting around the table or standing around socializing with our loved ones. However, these types of gatherings can be difficult for people who are D/deaf or hard-of-hearing (HOH).
At these types of gatherings, background noise, such as music or many people talking at the same time, is inevitable. For D/deaf and HOH people who have some residual hearing, background noise makes it more difficult (if not impossible) for them to utilize their residual hearing to help them understand speech. Also, if you're standing around with a group of people or sitting around a table together, the speaker tends to change frequently. People jump in and comment on what someone else just said and they will probably talk over each other at times. In this scenario, by the time the D/deaf or HOH person has time to figure out who is speaking and to focus on them enough to try and understand what they're saying, someone else has already started talking. This can leave the D/deaf or HOH person exhausted and frustrated--they are putting in so much effort, yet they may be unable to get meaning from or contribute to the conversation.
The good news is, you have the power to make your loved ones who are D/deaf or HOH feel more included during group gatherings. Here are four tips to remember for holiday get togethers--and for group settings in general.
1. Repeat yourself if asked
I have heard it said that the biggest swear word in the Deaf community is "never mind". If a D/deaf or HOH person asks you to repeat yourself, DO NOT say anything along the lines of "never mind"," I'll tell you later", "it's not important", etc. The person is showing that they want to know what you are saying and they felt safe enough to ask you to repeat yourself rather than just pretending they understood you the first time (which I know some D/deaf and HOH people do a lot). Shutting them down by refusing to repeat yourself is a huge slap in the face.
2. When repeating doesn't work, rephrase.
If you've repeated yourself more than once and the person still hasn't understood what you've said, odds are that you're going to have to try something different. This is a good time to rephrase what you said. When you rephrase, the person may be able to pick up more words and understand you.
3. When rephrasing doesn't work, write or type it.
If rephrasing doesn't work, a good next step is to either write down what you've said on a piece of paper or type it on your phone and show it to the other person.
4. Look up the sign--Google is your friend! (If this person uses sign language)
If you google "[word] in ASL", you will probably get a decent sign to help the other person understand you. Even if you can't sign a whole sentence, just a few key words might be enough to give the D/deaf or HOH person some context to figure out what you're saying. Also, utilize any sign language you already know. For example, if you know the alphabet, try spelling a word or two out.
5. Let the D/deaf or HOH person call the shots
This is super important! If you don't already know how the D/deaf or HOH person prefers to communicate, ASK them! It is much more polite to ask than to assume you know what works best for them. For example, maybe they don't read lips and/or don't use their voice and would prefer that you just write or type back and forth rather than having you repeat yourself or rephrase what you're saying. Or, maybe they don't use sign language, so relying on some combination of the first three tips is the best option. But, again, don't assume. Ask the D/deaf or HOH person how they prefer to communicate and let them lead the way.
I am very excited to announce that this page now has a new accessibility feature--alt text! Through networking with other bloggers, I have been learning new techniques to expand this site and, also, to make it accessible for everyone. This is the main blog post that helped me learn the ins and outs of alt text. As an advocate for accessibility, when I learn of a new way to make my content accessible and it's within my power to do it, I'm going to do it!
All images on this site now have alt text descriptions. Alt text is a description of a photograph; the purpose of alt text is to make images accessible to blind and low-vision individuals. Blind people typically use a screen reader or voiceover program to access online content. Without the alt text manually added in, it will simply read "image" or "picture". When I started adding alt text to the images on this site, I realized that they all say "picture" by default. Obviously, that doesn't help them understand what is in the image at all. But, when you add alt text to an image, the screen reader picks up on that and reads the description so that the blind person has equal access to the content.
Alt text is not visible unless you are using the appropriate software. It's kind of like an invisible caption. Here's an example of what I would write for alt text:
This is what I wrote for the alt text for this picture: "White and grey background. Text reads 'inaccessible', showing an eraser erasing the 'in'". That's a lot more helpful that "picture", don't you think?
Alt text is also used to improve SEO (search engine optimization). When alt text is provided, search engines can "see" the images on your site, making it more likely that your site will show up in search results. However, many people believe that this is the primary, or the only, purpose of alt text. So, it's important to educate people on how to use alt text correctly. It's definitely a benefit that alt text boosts SEO, but the problem is that many people will focus on putting words in the description that will trigger a search engine rather than making sure the description is clear for blind and low vision individuals.
I am always looking for ways to put my words into action by making my content accessible to everyone. If you have any suggestions on how I can improve accessibility, please feel free to let me know and I will do my best to make it happen.
Honestly, when all this talk about net neutrality started, I was pretty clueless. It took me awhile to wrap my brain around the concept of net neutrality and why people were upset and/or angry that it is in jeopardy. I didn't want to jump on the bandwagon of being outraged without having a basic understanding of the issue, so I did a little research. If you want to read up on the issue for yourself (and I encourage you to do so!), check out this website.
I'm not an IT expert, but, based on the research I've done, the fact that there are big companies out there trying to end net neutrality is scary! People are right to be upset about this--especially people who belong to the disabled or the Deaf community. Basically, net neutrality is a principle that prevents internet providers from making certain websites difficult or impossible to access by either slowing down the internet speed, charging customers additional money to view those sites, or just blocking them altogether. The reason that internet providers want this ability is so that they can promote websites that support their company in order to make more money.
For example, in a world without net neutrality, an internet provider could have a deal with Yahoo. If you tried to go to Google to search for something, you would be redirected to Yahoo. If you wanted to use Google instead, you would have to pay your internet provider more money. Or, they may just block it altogether, forcing you to change internet providers (if you even have that option) in order to access the search engine of your choice.
Right now, the FCC has introduced a bill that aims to end net neutrality. The end of net neutrality would be the end of the internet as we know it. The internet is supposed to be a place where anyone can access any content they wish and express themselves freely. The end of net neutrality would mean the end of that freedom.
So, what does all of this have to do with the disabled and Deaf communities? Deaf people, for example, would have their choice of interpreting services limited. Many Deaf people use VPs (video phones) to make phone calls. If net neutrality were to end, they would have little to no choice in their service providers; they would have to use whichever one has an agreement with their internet provider or pay an additional fee. Blind people would face the same problem with magnification software, voiceover programs, etc.
As for people with other disabilities, many of us supplement our incomes with blogging, YouTube videos, etc. This could be severely impacted by a lack of net neutrality. This doesn't only mean a loss of an income source for some people, but it also means it will be harder to spread disability awareness. Many disabled people struggle to be understood and to have their story heard; the internet provides a platform for us to express ourselves and communicate with other people that we can relate to who we may have otherwise never met.
Here is a video of Chris Haulmark (Kansas state senator candidate explaining the importance of net neutrality in ASL (with English and Spanish captions).
Whether you have a disability or not, the proposition to end net neutrality is concerning. Everyone deserves access to information through the medium of their choice and to be able to create content on the platform of their choice and have a fair chance of being heard. The issue of net neutrality goes back to one of the basic principles of this blog--communication is a human right and no one should be allowed to limit our communication.
When you continually fight for a cause (or multiple causes), it can be easy to get discouraged when you see what you perceive as a lack of progress. In this post, I'm going to focus on the cause of language equality. Specifically, that all Deaf children are given full access to ASL (or the sign language of their country) as their first language from birth.
Full access to ASL from birth only happens for 1 out of every 4 Deaf children. Getting language access to those other 3 out of 4 children can seem like such an insurmountable goal. There are doctors telling scared parents that their only option is for their child to use hearing aids or a cochlear implant and learn to lipread and speak. There are parents that become obsessed with the idea that they must "fix" or "normalize" their Deaf child. There are even entire organizations *cough* Alexander Graham Bell *cough* that are committed to denying the devastating effects of language deprivation.
Access to ASL for deaf children just makes sense. While some children may learn to speak as well, they will still never be able to fully access spoken English. How can giving someone a partial language set them up for success later in life?
So, we have to be even more committed than the forces working against us. Even more committed to continually educating ourselves. Even more committed to raising awareness. Even more committed to donating our time and/or money to organizations that promote language access. How do we stay committed? How do we keep fighting every day for what we know is right?
I was watching a few videos the other day of Deaf babies communicating in or being exposed to ASL. Little hands get me every time. I felt warm and fuzzy. When I see those types of videos or read those types of stories I know that that is the way it should be. It reminds me what I'm fighting for. The day I stop fighting will be either 1.) the day I die, or 2.) the day when every single Deaf child has full access to sign language from birth.
Now, I'll share a couple of my favorite videos with you. There are plenty more as well, so feel free to search away!
This video of sweet, 22 month old Ayla is one of my favorites! This is what I'm fighting for! This is what all Deaf children deserve! There's also other videos in this series of Deaf babies signing ASL that are equally as heartwarming and fabulous.
And then we have this video of a Deaf grandmother teaching her Deaf granddaughter ASL. How sweet is THAT? This grandmother is passing on her language and culture to her granddaughter and it's beautiful.
This past week, on Thursday November 2nd, I was incredibly blessed to be able to hear Sheila Walsh speak AND to meet her after the event! My best friend attended this event with me. My best friend's dad was kind enough to drive us all the way to Fredricksburg, Virginia so that we could attend. It took us about 7 hours to get there from here in Upstate New York.
This particular event was called "The Beautiful Broken Life Tour". Sheila Walsh just released a new book called "In the Middle of the Mess", which is what prompted this tour. Sheila Walsh has written several exceptional books, but this book is different from the others she has written. In this book, Sheila shares some very personal details about her life that she has not shared in the past.
Sheila Walsh has been open about her struggle with clinical depression for years. However, she had not, until writing this book, addressed her struggle with chronic suicidal thoughts. She has taken one of the most taboo topics in our society and tackled it head on. The need for this type of honest, raw discussion about mental illness within the Church is so desperately needed. As a person who also struggles with depression, I am profoundly grateful to Sheila for being brave enough to tell her story both in her books as well as over and over in person.
Here is a video of Sheila discussing her battle with depression for those who have never heard her story. It's extremely powerful and I highly recommend it!
As if hearing Sheila speak (and being super close to the stage) wasn't already amazing, I was able to meet her after the event! She signed my brand new copy of her new book, took a picture with me and my best friend, and even talked to me for a few minutes. When I told her that I was a fellow sufferer of depression, she wrote in my book "Don't give up." It meant so much to me that I cried (it wasn't the first time I cried during the event but, small detail.)
This event was accessible for me. In fact, it was perfect for me because the setting was fairly small and intimate, which lessened my anxiety. For those with more prominent physical disabilities, I didn't see any reason that the event wouldn't be accessible. However, there was no ASL interpreter, which was unfortunate. My cousin was considering attending the event as well, but she is Deaf and, understandably, did not want to attend without an interpreter. Hopefully this is something that can be arranged for future events. I hate for anyone to miss out on the awesomeness that is Sheila Walsh because of a language barrier!
In my last post, I shared about the annual women's retreat that I attend. I focused on where the event is held, why it's special to me, how the event is structured, and accessibility. And then the post was already so long that I didn't feel I could talk about what I learned at the retreat this year. So, that's what part two is for! If you haven't had a chance to read the first post yet, you can read it here.
The ladies who plan this retreat pray fervently about who they will ask to speak each year. They never give the speakers a topic; they simply tell them to share whatever the Lord has put on their heart. The speakers generally don't communicate with each other about their messages prior to the retreat. However, there never fails to be multiple recurring themes throughout the entire weekend! This is one of the many ways that I am assured that the Holy Spirit is at work and present at this event.
These were some of the recurring themes this year:
1. The Holy Spirit is underrated.
Our first speaker on Friday night set the tone for the weekend with a great message about the Holy Spirit. She spoke about how vital the Holy Spirit is to our lives as believers and how so many churches don't teach enough, or at all, on this part of the Trinity. Then, other speakers throughout the weekend continued to build upon this theme. One thing that the Friday night speaker talked about that really stood out to me was that we can (and should) pray directly to the Holy Spirit. I had honestly never fully realized that! I always thought I had to pray to the Father to guide me with the Holy Spirit. But, the Holy Spirit is 100% God, just like the Father and Jesus. So, why wouldn't we pray directly to Him? This has really changed my prayer life!
Verses referenced by the speaker:
Acts 1:1-8 (emphasis on verses 4-5)
2 Corinthians 3:6
2 Corinthians 5:5
2. We need to surrender our thoughts to Christ
On Saturday morning, one speaker's message was about "thinking about what we think about". Much like Friday night's message, this speaker's points continued to be emphasized throughout the rest of the weekend by the other speakers. This speaker's main point was that "we create mental imagine of thoughts that have no basis in Truth [and] these do not produce fruit." And, the anecdote to this is to "marinate ourselves in Truth". I love the way she phrased that! This speaker referenced Philippians 4:6-8 (with an emphasis on verse 8). This verse must have came up at least 3-4 other times over the rest of the weekend!
3. We must encourage and build one another up.
One of the speakers on Saturday evening spoke about peacemaking and encouraging, which largely tied into the Saturday morning speaker. She also referenced Philippians 4:8. She began her message with a powerful quote: "How do you know if someone needs encouragement? If they're breathing." This quote fit perfectly with the speaker that had gone just before her who stated how vital it is that we be kind to one another because, most of the time, we have no idea what people are going through! People can look like they have it all together while being a physical, spiritual, and/or emotional mess on the inside! We need to pray to be able to see people as God sees them!
There were so many other important things spoken about over this weekend, but, for the sake of brevity, I tried to pick the three themes I felt were most pervasive throughout the entire event. Have you ever been on a retreat, either a one day event or multiple days? How was your experience? Would you attend another?
Every fall, I attend a local women's retreat. It's a fantastic event where women of all ages, from different backgrounds, and from different churches all come together for a weekend of growing in our relationships with each other and our relationships with Jesus. The event starts on Friday evening and ends in the late morning on Sunday. This is my third year attending this retreat. The first year I attended, in 2015, I made the decision to surrender my life to Christ sitting on the couch in the cozy fellowship hall directly across from a beautiful fireplace. I had about five women surrounding me and praying for me. We ended up praying and talking until about 1:00 in the morning! I had gone to church and considered myself a Christian for as long as I could remember, but I knew that I was forever changed that night. This annual retreat has become very special to me and I consider it my favorite event of the year!
The venue is a beautiful Christian retreat center located right in the middle of the beautiful mountains here in upstate NY. It has an incredible view--especially in the fall!
See? Wouldn't you love to wake up to that in the morning?
The event is structured roughly like this:
Friday night, between 5:30-6:30 PM, everyone arrives. You are given your room assignment and then you have time to unpack and settle in. Then, you can go back down from the dorms to the fellowship hall for some fellowship time before our service starts at 7:00.
Our opening service is usually about 2 hours. We start off with praise and worship, and then we listen to a speaker. After our opening service, we have an ice cream social and hang out for a bit before going back to our rooms.
On Saturday we have a morning session that is similar to the Friday night session, except there are two speakers. Then, after lunch, we participate in workshops that we chose ahead of time. There are two workshop sessions and we get to pick which workshops we want to attend. After dinner, we have an evening service. Then, like Friday night, we have snacks and hang out until we go back to our rooms (there are breaks in the schedule but, for the sake of brevity, I'm just giving you the highlights).
Sunday morning, after breakfast, we have a wrap up session. Then, there is a typically a prayer session and people can choose to stay to pray for people, ask for prayer, or both.
This event does very well with accessibility, considering its size and its attendees.I feel very accommodated in terms of my personal disabilities. The event is structured in such a way that I can rest if needed. There is also a pervasive non-judgmental attitude that makes me feel that I can take a break if I need to, which may not seem like a big deal, but it really helps me a lot!
Physical disabilities can be accommodated as well. There are rooms available that are downstairs. Furniture in all areas can also be moved around to accommodate for equipment, if need be.
Accessibility for Deafness and blindness has not been largely addressed because there hasn't been a need thus far. There have been one or two times that someone was hard of hearing and they were offered a seat in the front and all the speakers made sure to use microphones (these HOH individuals did not sign). Because of the attitudes of the women on the planning team, I know that they would do everything in their power to meet any new accessibility needs that may arise.
I had originally planned to talk about some of the things I learned over the weekend, but this post is getting lengthy already. So, I think my next post will be a part two where I will share some of the topics that the speakers addressed and what I took away from it.
Part two is now published! You can check read it here.
"If you're not familiar with the Deaf community and Deaf culture, you may have never heard the term "hearing privilege" before. Hearing privilege highlights the things that hearing people do on a regular basis without giving them much thought. For Deaf people to do the same activity, it requires effort and planning; it's not something they take for-granted like hearing people do. That is my basic definition, but I want to let the Deaf community do most of the talking here. So, here are some examples of hearing privilege from Deaf individuals.
1. "You know when you have #HearingPrivilege when you don't have to worry about closed captions being on so you can follow it. Or having to ask the person sitting next to you to repeat the announcement that was said over the PA. Or having to base your friendships off who has the patience and time to be able to fill you in on what's going on around the table. (For those who does this for me, you mean the world to me.)"
2. "#HearingPrivilege is being able to accept a last minute invite and not have to go without access."
3. "#HearingPrivilege: listening to the radio and hearing about upcoming local events that nobody bothers to tell you about because they assume you won't be interested."
4. "#HearingPrivilege is not having to know that your colleagues feel economically burdened by your access and presence."
-Joseph Hill (obtained through Lisa Cryer)
5."#HearingPrivilege is my kids being able to take part in every aspect of our family: conversations over dinner, overhearing phone calls with Comcast, listening while the doctor talks to me, the privilege of 'selective hearing'. You can't know how much peripheral learning happens within a family until you meet people who didn't have access to any of it."
-Cameo Hunsaker (obtained through Lisa Cryer)
6. "#HearingPrivilege is asking if a 3 year old reads lips."
-Valerie Snowflake (obtained through Lisa Cryer)
7."#HearingPrivilege is not dreading family events (or any events in general, really) just because of communication barriers."
9. "#HearingPrivilege is not having to ask the person interviewing you for a fast food job to stop turning their head from you when talking."
10. #HearingPrivilege is being able to go to conventions and conferences on business and not feeling lost in conversation between others.
11. "#HearingPrivilege is saying " Never mind, it's not important".... and not feeling the affect."
12. "#HearingPrivilege is having access to live TV... Live."
13. "#HearingPrivilege is knowing what your classmates say regarding the topic during class."
14. #HearingPrivilege is not having strangers tell you that you need a device attached to your body to be "fixed".
- Lisa Cryer
15. "#HearingPrivilege is skimming past all of these posts because they don't apply to you personally."
If you are hearing, how much privilege do you feel you have because of it? Do you take a lot of things for-granted in your everyday life that would be a lot more challenging if you didn't hear?Did seeing these example make you more aware of the things you take for-granted?
If you're Deaf, can you relate to these example? What other examples would you add?
Let me know your thoughts!
What is International Week of the Deaf?
The International Week of the Deaf (IWD) is celebrated each year during the last full week in September. It was first initiated in Rome, Italy in 1958 by the World Federation for the Deaf.It is celebrated in September to commemorate the first meeting of the WFD
Why is IWD important?
The WFD states that The International Week of the Deaf is "the only week in a yearthat sees highly concerted global advocacy to raise awareness about the Deaf Community on different levels." Each year, there is a theme for the week. This year, the theme is "full inclusion with sign language". The WFD expands on this theme by stating that "the full social inclusion of deaf people is possible when sign language is recognized and used widely within the society." Below is a video (in ASL with English captions) where I describe what that statement means to me. I will also discuss why IWD is an important time for Deaf ministry organizations, such as DOOR international.
The importance of resources from Deaf people:
Here's all the websites I mentioned and gathered information from. I encourage you to check them out and get an even broader perspective on this very important week for the global Deaf community. My perspective is limited by the fact that I am hearing. I highly encourage you to also look at these resources made by Deaf people for Deaf people!
About the event:
Last weekend, I was blessed to be able to attend Beth Moore's Living Proof conference in Springfield, Massachusetts. I have watched Beth speak on TV and online, so I knew that she is a powerhouse and that she's extremely passionate about speaking Truth into the lives of other women. Sadly, I have not had the chance to read any of her books yet, but I definitely will! I was so excited to see her live!
The event was incredible! It's hard for me to even explain it; but the Holy Spirit was very present and very active in that arena. There were 2,000 women attending the conference. To my surprise, Beth said this was the smallest conference that she has had on this year's tour. Seemed pretty crowded to me, so I said a quick prayer of thanks to God that this was the particular conference I found myself at!
Even though there were 2,000 women there, the event had a small-group Bible study vibe.I was not expecting that at all--and I loved it! Beth taught mainly from Colossians 4, adding in other scriptures throughout her teaching for additional support. Her theme was "Staying afloat the fellow ship." (Get it???) She talked about how important it is for us to be in constant fellowship with other believers and that, at the same time, our main goal is to reach outsiders, or non-believers.
I was seriously impressed with Beth's teaching skills! She used lots of visuals, which helped me remember her main points. She actually had a (filled) salt shaker in her hand constantly and would shake it when she was reminding us how to Biblically season our conversations with non-believers with salt! Everyone was cracking up! I plan to attend this event again next fall, and I can't wait!
Whenever I go to an event, I'm always scoping out how accessible it is to different needs. I like to continue to support events that are accessible and help events that are less accessible understand why accessibility is so important. Plus, I like reporting back to all of you! From what I could gather, Beth Moore's conference was very accessible. There was an ASL interpreter in the front of the arena. There were several areas of seats that were reserved for attendees with special needs. I saw a few people in wheelchairs that seemed to be able to get a good view of what was going on on the stage, as well as enter and exit the arena comfortably. So, Living Proof Ministries gets an A for accessibility from me!
My personal challenges:
I don't go to large events like this very often. One of the biggest reasons for that is the fact that my disabilities can make it challenging. In order for me to go, it has to be something/someone I am really interested in and I have to be able to plan a lot of things ahead of time (how long the days are going to be, when I can rest, a plan for an escape from visual and/or auditory stimulation if needed, etc.)
So, what challenges did I face at this event? First of all, crowds of any kind are difficult for me. I feel trapped and claustrophobic when there are too many people and I can't move around. Also, arena sitting is not typically my friend. My body protests those hard, squished together seats every time. By the time we left the 2 1/2 hour Friday night event, my back and my legs were SCREAMING at me! I couldn't wait to collapse into my hotel bed! And, the 2 1/2 hour car ride there did not do my body any favors either. Travel is also extremely hard on my body. And most events involve travel and those arena seats. So, yeah...
A large amount of visual and/or auditory stimulation can be challenging for me too. Of course, I mentally prepare to take in more stimulation than normal when going to an event like this, but I'm typically still exhausted and overjoyed by silence at the end! Crowds and high amounts of stimulation can make it difficult for me to focus on my surroundings. And, there were these "speed bump" like things on the floor of the arena. Yup, you guessed it. I tripped over one! Also, my hands were shaky and achy (didn't mean to rhyme that, but whatever works), so as I tried to open my iced tea, I ended up spilling a bunch of it.
Was it worth it?
Short answer: yes. This was a great event. Beth Moore is an amazing teacher. Her praise band is fantastic. I had good fellowship with family and friends. But, that being said, there's a reason I only do these types of things once a year or so! It typically takes me at least 3-4 days to get back to my "normal" energy level (which isn't normal anyway).
I highly recommend this event to all women who love Jesus: able-bodied and disabled people alike!