Like anyone else with a visual impairment, I have learned to adjust to the sight-oriented world around me.  I have accommodations at my place of work, I am sure to keep my apartment well-lit, and I use my white cane when travelling in public. These adaptive skills and resources, though they don’t entirely erase my disability, help to minimize my struggles, and maximize my independence and inclusion.

There is one place, however, where this sense of inclusion is incredibly difficult to attain. It is a place where I am reminded of my visual impairment every moment, every Sunday morning.

It’s sadly ironic to me that a church service is the place where I feel MOST limited by my visual impairment.  After all, I have always held the belief that a faith-based community should be the most inclusive of any of my social circles.  I understand that not everyone reading this blog will identify as having the same faith background as me, or even identify as having any faith.  However, I have had enough conversations with other individuals who are visually impaired or blind to know that inclusion and accommodation in a faith-based community is something that is often lost when so much participation is based on an individual’s vision. I think it’s a concern that needs to be addressed.

In my experience, the biggest hurdles to my full participation on Sunday mornings come when I cannot read the bulletin (which often has the sermon outline), and not being able to read the lyrics that are posted on screens in the front.  I breathe a sigh of relief when the songs that we sing in worship are ones that I have memorized, because then my disability doesn’t matter. I am simply one voice, joining others, and sharing a community experience. I crave those moments.

The church that I attend is aware of my visual impairment, and has been accommodating, but only when I ask and remind them every week. They will make me a large print bulletin, but only if I let them know the Thursday before, because the layout they use to include all of the information is, I assume, all the more difficult and time-consuming to make large print. And, even though I appreciate that effort, I do feel a burden of expectation. Like, “Well, no matter what life throws my way, I HAVE to be in church on Sunday, because they’ve taken the time for this individual accommodation.”

And I feel singled out again, because I am the ONLY one who needs a very special bulletin made.

I think all of these exclusionary feelings could be avoided if faith-based communities simply changed their thoughts about visual participation in services.  Yes, I understand why you want to make your lyrical PowerPoint presentations aesthetically pleasing, Worship Director/Tech Guy, but if it limits full participation from every single person in that room, is it really worth it?  What’s the problem with high-contrast, large, simplistic font? Why must it always be “flashy” or “pretty”? What happened to “functional” and “practical”?

And the same goes for the bulletin, and any other documentation that is shared in the community. Why not print double-sided, 18 point font with all of the important information? I am sure many people – not just those who have low vision – would appreciate the easy-to-read style. And why not utilize technology? Though I’m not much of a tech-gal, I would imagine that anything that would be brought to a community during a worship service could be sent electronically ahead of time, and if formatted properly, could even be made accessible to those who have no vision. Smartphones are amazing for that sort of thing.

Someone once told me that individuals with disabilities are the most creative people, because we are constantly finding new ways to adjust to the not-always-accessible world around us. I think that this creativity needs to be advocated for, and we need to share it with our social circles, so that accommodations eventually become the status-quo. Everyone deserves to feel welcome and included.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. If you participate in a faith-based community, have you shared some of my frustrations about accessibility? What strategies have you found that allow you to have a better experience? If you don’t attend a faith-based organization, are there similar social activities that you feel limited participation because of your visual impairment? If so, what are your strategies and thoughts about this?