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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Moving at a glacier pace by Warren Brown

Photo by Luca Galuzzi -
I agree that overall awareness and empathy for those with differing abilities has increased somewhat over the last 50 years. Steps such as closed captioning at movie theatres, better access for those with physical disabilities, audio versions of UU World are all wonderful. And while I think its important to acknowledge such gains, I worry about being too self-congratulatory. As a society - and more importantly as UU communities - we ARE moving at a glacier pace. That is cause for concern. I truly believe that the progress we have seen so far only represents the very lowest of the low hanging fruit. What we have done is to address the most visible and least threatening problems. Its natural to see people in wheelchairs or with walkers and want to help - and we rightly should support and applaud those efforts. However, if we were to dig just a little deeper we would see how unaware we remain of the huge number of those who have to struggle in other ways to engage in our communities. We don't see hearing loss. We often turn away from those with mental or emotional challenges. The fact is that there are many who would like to join us who could if we were more conscious of their obstacles and sincere in our desire to learn how to help.

As an advocate for those with hearing loss, I have become most aware of the issues they face. How many times have you been in a large gathering of UU's when someone stands up to speak and refuses the microphone? "I'll speak up," they say not considering those who can only hear with the help of the sound system. How many UU churches have acoustics so bad that it's hard to understand even for those with mild hearing loss? Often people avoid those places. How many are under the misconception that FM headset systems in our sanctuaries are the solution for those who have trouble hearing services? Headset systems don't address the some of the most basic requirements to help people hear. So many of us never realize that there are countless members of our congregations who struggle to hear everyday.

UU's should be on the forefront of inclusion not only for those with hearing loss but for all who face disabilities of any kind. It's not that we don't care. It's just that we don't know. That needs to change. We need to step up our efforts and bring awareness to these problems. We must strive to pay closer attention to those around us. We should never assume that because its easy for us to participate, that others share the same experience. All of us can raise our level of empathy for our neighbors. To that end, I'd like to promote a workshop "Reaching Out To Those With Hearing Loss" that EqUUal Access, Carol Agate and I will be presenting at General Assembly. I hope many of you will join us Thursday, June 26 between 4 and 5:15 pm in the Rotunda. Let us all take BIGGER steps to include those of all abilities into our UU family.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Several people with hearing challenges have told me that Coffee Hour is THE WORST! Fast moving conversations half-projected over a din, with faces at all kinds of angle to each other, and in some places, no balancing eye contact and face reading to remind us that we're all so much more than the sound of a voice.