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Monday, April 21, 2014

Step By Step

It may move at glacier speed, but more and more the needs of people with disabilities are being addressed in our society in ways both large and small.  The latest to catch my eye involves
the simple but universal act of enjoying a night at the movie theater.  In the Philadelphia area, and, I imagine, in many areas around the country, movie theaters are now offering small devices that discreetly display captions to the individual moviegoer.  Some theaters offer eyeglasses that display captions across the bottom of the inside surface of the lens so that only the wearer can see them.  Others provide little screens mounted on the end of flexible arms that are positioned in the moviegoer's cupholder.  While there are still occasional glitches in the accuracy of the transcriptions, this is a wonderful step forward in helping people with hearing impairments (like me) follow the dialogue and more fully enjoy the movie.

Theaters are also installing devices that aid those with visual impairments as well.  In many theaters, moviegoers can wear an audio headset that includes both the regular movie dialogue as well as the voice of a narrator who describes the action on the screen, for example, whether they are driving a car, eating a meal, or even smiling or frowning.

At the Unitarian Universalist Association, we are constantly looking for ways to use existing technology to aid Unitarian Universalists with hearing and vision problems.  For two years now, we have offered audio versions of UU World.  We are exploring ways of better utilizing closed captions on various YouTube and other videos.  We are also investigating ways of making printed materials available to people with "print disabilities" via audio books, screen reader software and braille.  Resources are available to congregations who want to enhance the sound capacity in their buildings via headsets or loop system.

Whether its watching a movie, attending a worship service or enjoying a good book, everyone deserves the right to full access.  We in the UUA, as in the general society, are getting there.  Bear with us and thanks for your patience.

Mark Bernstein
Growth Consultant, Central East Regional Group and UUA Liaison to Equual Access


Unknown said...

Hi, Mark;
I agree that a lot of the technology being used in the theater may be adapted to worship service. At a children't theater that my son is active in, they have real-time description and captioning that works with my iPad. Volunteers caption to an app that I can read on my iDevice.
Since smart phones are getting so ubiquitous, I really think they could be utilized in church service more (with maybe even a few "loaners" for people who don't have them.) Orders of service, pre-emailed sermons, hymn lyrics and real-time captioning (for things likes like joys and concerns, etc.) would just take a few seconds of advanced emailing and maybe a few volunteers who would be willing to transcribe. (It takes work, so you would want a team to do it, not just a single person). The technology is there, the biggest problem I have had as a deaf blind person quite frankly has been an unwillingness to give out information electronically. Ministers state that it is too hard to email sermons before hand because they are writing them up till the moment, or people get concerned about copywriting and "intellectual property" of their speeches, if one person gets an e Order of Service then everyone will want one (and that would be bad because...? We would save so much paper that is only used for one hour?) those kinds of issues. (Also, volunteer transcribers can be hard to come by, which is more of an understandable challenge.) We have offered to teach seniors in our church that have vision/hearing impairments and others how to use smart phones and tablets for free at our church in exchange for classroom space and a blurb in the newsletter, but the leadership showed no again, as with most disability issues, it is not the disability cannot be accommodated, it often can. It is attitudes that become the barrier.

Elz Curtiss said...

How many folks who are physically able to sing in the congregational choir are prevented because it's up in the balcony?

Eva June Roberts said...

In 2006 or 7, my Mother, June Roberts, a woman who had committed her life to advocating for equal access to all aspects of society that people without disabilities have access to, in the last year of her life attempted to go to a Unitarian Universalist Service. I had driven by and I had seen the ramp outside. My mother got dressed up which was not easy because she could not breathe much at all and only with great difficulty, with oxygen all the time. My mother who had MS since she was 14, and so at this time could not walk either so she used a motorized chair. I had told her that I had seen a ramp going into the UU building in Jamesport NY. I remember Sister Margaret was the featured speaker. The sign outside said the theme was "Welcoming Strangers". I drove my mother to the service that Sunday in her van, as she was no longer able to drive her accessible van even though it had been equipped with a lift and hand controls. I remember she was dressed and looked sharp, white blouse and black slacks... But when we go to the building, I got out and went to investigate. Unfortunately, after the ramp, there were stairs into the building. It was so disappointing, to me, I felt so bad. and to my mother. This was so sad. Her birthday is tomorrow. She lived from 1936-2007. I know that it costs money to make building accessible, and I know many faith groups struggle with dwindling memberships and not enough funds. But if there is a way to make buildings more accessible to people with mobility impairments, please do, in honor of my mother. June E.(Frederick) Roberts. Do it for all the other people who can't get in to join with others of their faith. There are many other was people with physical and mental difficulties are not able to access faith groups of their choosing. Ramps are just one way to make it possible for some to have access. Best Regards, Eva June Roberts.

Mark Bernstein said...

Thank you for this post. I so agree that attitude is a major barrier. It takes more effort to be inclusive of everyone but isn't that what our faith is supposed to be about? Keep advocating, my friend, for innovative ways of ensuring that everyone can take full advantage of congregational life.

Mark Bernstein said...


Thank you for your story and your beautiful tribute to your mother. There are many UU congregations that are working to make their buildings more accessible to people with mobility issues. We need to continue supporting those efforts while encouraging other congregations to take their first steps. Access for all needs to be our number one priority.

Mark Bernstein said...


Or even just up a riser with no ramp? Or because the choir is expected to stand for every hymn?