Published in June 2007

Assisting the Hearing Impaired, Part 1
By David Lee Jr., PhD

Awareness is a key element.


    All people are created equal. This is a core belief of most religions that believe in one God.
    Yet, we all know of individuals who were born with mental or physical handicaps. We also know of people who suffer with degenerative diseases that lead to impairment of some kind. In fact, more than 25 million people have hearing impairments. So, are all people created equal? I have studied this philosophical puzzle in-depth. My understanding contains physical and metaphysical properties. For me, stated in very general terms, this statement means that we all are created equal to experience and worship God.
    Experiencing and worshiping God is the fundamental purpose for creating the many types of worship facilities found in our world. Yet, not all people have been given an equal opportunity to worship in these man-made facilities. I believe individuals who have handicaps have been marginalized unintentionally by worship centers and their leaders. This must be changed.
    I hope and pray for the day when people with impairments are assimilated as equals into any House of Worship. I believe that all people should have an equal opportunity to have the best possible church-going experience. With this in mind, I will present some simple steps that we can take toward helping church leaders assist people who have hearing impairments to experience a meaningful church-going experience. For this writing, hearing-impaired means people who have a hearing disability ranging from slight to people who are completely deaf. I believe that awareness, technology use and practical thinking are first steps we can take toward helping church leaders serve hearing-impaired people.
    •  Awareness: The biggest problem is that many church leaders simply do not have hearing-impaired people on their radar.     Obviously, this problem is not completely ours to solve. We can, however, address this issue when we consult with church leaders. I believe this is a win-win-win for all parties involved. The hearing impaired win, the church leader wins and we win because we are doing a great service for the impaired, for the church and for our revenue stream. Every church leader I have convinced to specifically embrace ministry for the hearing impaired has grown. This reason alone should inspire credible church leaders to pursue ministry to the hearing impaired.
    •  Technology Use: We certainly know that many church facilities have horrible acoustics that blur speech intelligibility. Nearly 90 years ago, churches in Europe began using wired earphone systems as hearing aids for people who were not completely deaf. These crude, hardwired systems evolved into AM transmitter/receiver packages. AM morphed into FM transmitter/receiver units that provided the listener with improved signal quality. Currently, infrared (IR) systems appear to be the best approach available for aiding the hearing impaired. For the completely deaf, human signing and digital signage are used, along with real-time closed-captioning, in a handful of large churches.
    •  Practical Thinking: I was hired to analyze a wide range of communication concerns in a 2500-plus seat church in Ft. Lauderdale FL. The seating was tight and went all the way to the stage. The vibrant, Latin-styled band and orchestra was located within 15 feet of the first rows of seats. People who sat in those seats complained about the band volume. At the same time, the 150-plus hearing-impaired group, with sign translator, was seated on the opposite side of the auditorium in a spot that was comparatively quiet and obviously “out of the way.”
    Have you already figured out the practical solution? Yep, we put the hearing impaired in those seats where the volume was loud. This absolutely energized this unique group of people. The hearing-impaired people could feel the energy, see the stage and the lyrics on the screens. And, they felt assimilated as equals in this church and are now more than 300 in number.
    I do not think that we will solve the problem of the hearing impaired in the House of Worship market here. But, perhaps we can develop innovative solutions that can help church leaders address the needs of people who are hearing impaired. As you can see, some solutions are quite simple; other situations involve more complex solutions.
    I would like to know what you think.

David Lee Jr., PhD, CEO of Lee Communication Inc., Orlando FL, is a licensed minister and has more than 25 years of experience as a systems integrator. He is a member of Sound & Communications’ Technical Council. Send comments to dlee@testa.com.




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