Deaf Awareness Week is September 20-26, 2020
By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.
Ready or not, here it comes. Deaf Awareness Week is observed and celebrated during the last week of September. Sometimes referred to International Week of the Deaf, this year's dates are Sunday, September 20, through September 26.
This week is a time to raise awareness about Deaf culture, Deaf history, human rights and accessibility. During this special week, some Deaf ministries are hosting sign language classes, inviting a sign choir, incorporating specific Scripture references to Deaf and hard of hearing people, or viewing the Lord’s Prayer in sign language. The sky’s the limit with creativity for raising awareness.
(Rev. Kirk VanGilder and LaSander Saunders signing Communion liturgy.)
As a denomination, the United Methodist Church is committed to providing support for Deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind persons and families through General Conference legislation. At a time where diversity is sought, inclusion and further commitment to Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons are needed all the more.
Churches can consider one or more of the following as a way to highlight Deaf Awareness Week:
- Show the Lord's Prayer in sign language and encourage parishioners to follow or sign along
- Teach a couple of church-related signs during announcements, highlighting Deaf awareness
- Include Deaf-related Scripture readings such as Leviticus 19:14, Mark 7:32-37, or Luke 1:57-66
- If slide announcements are used, include an informational slide about Deaf Awareness Week, or include this in e-mail announcements
- Include bulletin inserts (see the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Ministries web site page "Congregational Resources" for examples)
- On September 20, have the liturgist, deacon, or pastor open worship with "Good Morning" and "welcome" in ASL, explaining this is Deaf Awareness Sunday
- Turn on the captions, especially if your service is online (see here for online inclusion ideas)
- Share a 5 minute Deaf culture video during any virtual groups that meet during Deaf Awareness Week
- Have a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person be a liturgist (1 in 3 seniors at 65 have mild hearing loss)
(Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and Deafblind members of Conway UMC signing “Shout to the Lord”)
A helpful book for learning about or starting a Deaf ministry is Deaf Ministry: A Comprehensive Overview of Ministry Models, 3rd Ed. Also, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries Committee through Global Ministries offers a plethora of resources and small grants. The United Methodist Congress of the Deaf (UMCD) is a Deaf caucus that supports Deaf ministries throughout the denomination, with resources such as this helpful one-page chart, or these Deaf awareness activities.
Historically, the church has often overlooked, and even at times oppressed, Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons. This is known as audism. To place accessibility and relationships, which are the heart of Deaf ministries, in perspective, Deaf Awareness Week is a time to commit to being invitational and highlight the gifts of Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and Deafblind persons. Certainly, relationships are central to worship and congregational life – with the Lord and with one another. What’s needed at your church to take an additional step toward inviting Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons? It makes for a great conversation during a church admin council or staff meeting.
* Rev. Leo Yates, Jr. is a deacon in full connection serving in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He may be reached at RevYates@eumclaurel.org.