Thursday, March 11, 2021

Accessibility and Hospitality for Easter

Accessibility and Hospitality for Easter

 By Rev. Leo Yates, Jr.

Many churches are steeped in the Lenten season, and many clergy and pastoral staff are preparing for Holy Week and Easter services. With Easter being the most important worship service on the Christian calendar, it is important to be welcoming to all, including Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons. The global pandemic has caused most churches to provide online services, and there is a strong likelihood that churches will provide online services, with some having some sort of modified in-person service, on Easter.

Quite often, older adults have some sort of hearing loss (e.g., 1 in 3 sixty-five-year-old adults have mild hearing loss). Some recommendations to make online services become more hospitable and better accessible for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people include:

announcement posting, virtual worship service

Online Services – Pre-recorded Services

  • A pre-recorded service is uploaded in advance, and set to play at a given time.
  • CAPTIONING – pre-recorded video can easily include captioning. If using YouTube, enabling the caption function is a start, though it is not a perfect transcription. The National Center on Disability and Access to Education offers a helpful cheat sheet. Be sure to include lyrics to the Easter hymns and songs together in one downloadable document, as YouTube does not caption music well.
  • DEAF-FRIENDLY - Making the service Deaf-friendly also means making it more visually appealing by using nature scenes, views from different parts of the sanctuary, human stories, a sign choir, a lesson to teach “happy Easter” in sign language, and such.
  • INTERPRETER - Including a sign language interpreter is certainly helpful. Ideally, the interpreter will record themselves prior to the finished video, submit it, and the video editor will insert the interpreter’s video as a picture-in-picture (similar to the work in virtual choir editing).
  • ASK – If pastoral staff is aware of persons viewing/participating with hearing loss, then be intentional to ask how the online services are working for them. Asking every 3 to 6 months is a good best practice. This helps the church to work at better inclusion.
  • Support: with assistance from volunteers, reach out to any unengaged elderly members and offer to play the service for them so they can hear it by phone (place your phone by the laptop or tablet speaker).

a streamed worship service showing pastor in center with interpreter on one side
Online Services – Zoom and Other Platforms
  • PLAN AHEAD -- all of these options require planning ahead—don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can simply flip a switch as you begin and proceed.
  • CAPTIONING - New releases of PowerPoint offer a captioning feature, which can be helpful. Other services available include, 3 Play Media, Otter, and Zoom. Using on an iPhone is another way that persons can follow along (placing the iPhone near the laptop or computer) to better improve captioning accessibility for an individual.
  • CAN – In place of captioning, using CAN (computer assisted notetaking) is an option where a paid or volunteer typist places summaries in the chat. Here is an example. 

“CAN: Announcements are being shared. Guests are encouraged to stay after for fellowship.”

“CAN: The hymn being played is ‘Christ is Risen Today.’”

“CAN: Sermon – The scripture was explained. A funny story was shared about the pastor as a child.”

If the scripts and sermons are available to the assisted notetaker, then he or she can copy and paste them throughout the service. CAN services can better include all people, deaf and hearing alike.

  • INTERPRETER - If a sign language interpreter is on the Zoom call, recommend that the host “pin” the interpreter. Also, it is helpful if the interpreter renames him- or herself as "Interpreter" so he or she is easy to identify.
  • HANDOUTS - Make scripts and sermons available for download (or to be emailed) for Deaf and hard-of-hearing persons who request it in case other communication access is unavailable. Be sure to announce or post this so it is known.
  • DEAF-FRIENDLY – Learn and sign “Good Morning. Happy Easter.” Include a cultural moment during announcements that teaches a new sign or phrase each week, and mention that the church is making efforts to improve inclusion.
  • LARGE PRINT – For churches that are mailing or dropping off bulletins to parishioners, include the option for a large print version for those who need it. Be sure to contact parishioners you suspect need might benefit from large print materials ahead of time.
  • INVITE – It is ALWAYS good practice to announce at the beginning of the service a request that persons who need better accessibility or accommodations inform the pastoral staff or church secretary (or some other assigned person). Be sure to include a blurb on the church website too.
  • SUPPORT -- Easter is a good time to reach out to the elderly by phone and encourage participation.
  • HOSPITALITY -- Consider a small care package (with an Easter spin). Ask a family to adopt a senior who has been less engaged. This is a nice idea for Deafblind persons too. Remember, some seniors or older adults have some type of hearing loss AND vision loss.

telephone with text worship conference call

Phone-in Services – Conference Call or call in services 

  • INVITE -- As we state above, it is important to share Easter with unengaged persons, like older adults. Make an exerted effort to invite them to call in.
  • ACCOMMODATE – If a few folks share concerns of not being able to follow along on a call, then offer a smaller group call or even an individual call that offers a short Easter devotional. This can be done by pastoral staff or volunteers on the Easter Vigil (Saturday) and anytime on Sunday.
  • HANDOUTS – Be sure to send any handouts, such as bulletins and music ahead of time, large print versions as well.
  • HOSPITALITY – Consider a small care package (with an Easter spin). Consider the church youth group to prepare care packages for seniors or older adults who have been less engaged. This is a nice idea for Deafblind persons too.
small box with care items, the lid says "you are loved"

Also, consider these points
collected from a survey of people with different disabilities as you work for inclusion. Easter is a joyful time of the year, and practicing accessibility and inclusion will make it a widely-shared and remembered time. Jesus made accommodations for us; we should offer the same for others.

* For questions or more information, please contact Rev. Yates at



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