Disabilities and Your Church Website: Hearing and Technology Impairments

hands performing sign language

Your target audiences most likely include people with disabilities and impairments. Although visual and cognitive impairments may seem like the most obvious obstacles to using a website, two others to consider are hearing and technological.

Hearing Impairments

You might have seen people signing out in public and could tell when an argument was taking place. Their hands started moving faster with sharper jerkier movements. Conversely, one of the most amazing things I have seen in my church is to watch deaf people worship. Seeing them waive their hands with such joy and enthusiasm is truly a sight to behold. It was seeing this that I realized the church needs to accommodate them as best as possible. From someone signing during the sermon, to proper sign placement, to your website. You need to consider them. Here are some ideas.

Sermon Transcripts

Many churches are putting their sermon recordings online and distributing them via podcasts, YouTube, Vimeo, and other content channels. However, back on your church website, do you include a transcript of that sermon? If not, you are telling your deaf congregation members that if they don’t come to church to see the message signed, they simply will have to miss out.

Text with Video

If you have the budget to produce video, go the extra step and work to include as many written prompts as possible. Can you include subtitles? Also, while talking while displaying a powerful image may be artistically impactful, it will be completely lost on your deaf audience. Watch your videos on mute and see how much of it you get.

Technology Impairments

The idea of technological impairments may seem a little odd; that is unless you are on a the go with your iPhone, trying to determine if a restaurant meets your dietary needs; and the entire site is built in Adobe Flash. For those of you who do not know, Flash has and never will be supported on Apple devices. When I was in this situation, all I saw was a web page with a pretty background. Not very helpful at all when your entire family is hungry!

Advanced or Proprietary Technology

Take a “lowest common denominator” approach to what is used to craft your website. If you are using products like Adobe Flash, or you require JavaScript interactions to access parts of your site; you are potentially keeping people out.

Screen Size

Although the majority of web surfers are viewing your website on nice widescreen monitors, you need to not alienate those with older setups. If you have an urban ministry focusing on helping the poor, they may have a computer. However, putting content for them on a layout meant for larger screens may seem insulting.

There are many other examples of how to make your website more technology accessible; however that is a topic for another article. Just be aware of all of the limitations that certain audiences may have. Not everyone is viewing your website on a new iPad or widescreen display.

Action Item

Although these may not seem like high-priority actions, becoming known as the church that accommodates people with disabilities can be a feather in your cap. They may not be your target audience; but including their restrictions and concerns when designing a site will allow them to draw closer to the Kingdom of God.

Photo courtesy of Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Author: Stephen Morrissey

I have been making websites since 1996, and using social media since 2006. My current profession is designing user experiences for corporate software, websites, and mobile applications. I started sharing my knowledge with the world in 2011, about a year after a revival in my faith.