How Captions Allow Lipreading Mom to Worship

The sermon series was promoted for weeks before I finally sat through the first message. On a warm summer morning, my husband and I sat in our usual place: front row center in the church auditorium. The closer to the stage, the more likely I could lipread the pastor. That theory worked until the audience asked questions. How could I lipread those sitting in the rows behind me? I ended up handing a pen and notepad to my hubby and asked him to “translate” what I was missing. But what did I miss in his translation?

Let me preface this with a truth: Lipreading Mom can’t understand most words clearly because of my sensorineural hearing loss. Some sounds I am deaf to; others sound mumbled, even with my hearing aids in. Without the ability to clearly hear certain sounds, I miss a word here and there. Before I know it, I’ve missed a sentence, then a paragraph. Exhausted from trying to lipread everyone and everything, I want to give up. I wanted to give up lipreading that Sunday morning when the audience asked the questions I couldn’t hear well.

But I didn’t.

The next Sunday, I handed this note to my church’s assistant director of missions:

I ATTENDED YOUR WORSHIP SERVICE TODAY AND HAD TROUBLE UNDERSTANDING THE MESSAGE DUE TO MY HEARING LOSS. EVEN WITH HEARING AIDS OR ASSISTIVE LISTENING DEVICES, I STILL DON’T CATCH EVERY PART OF THE SERMON. I WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS WITH YOU AT YOUR EARLIEST CONVENIENCE. THANK YOU…

The director emailed me within 24 hours, and we arranged a meeting that week. I took my hearing aids out and showed them to her. “Without these in my ears, I catch about 50 percent of what’s going on at church,” I said. “Even with them in, I catch maybe 75 percent. I need the church’s help, and it won’t cost you much at all.”

I proposed the use of live captioning at weekly Sunday services. In order to promote captions, I offered to help the church find the following:

1) A reliable laptop computer

2) A separate large monitor to be placed on a cart in front of the church auditorium’s front row

3) Volunteers within the church who are good at typing, can hear well, and are willing to type live captions one to two times a month

After presenting these ideas to our pastor, the assistant director agreed that the church should provide these accommodations to those of us with hearing loss.

On a Sunday at the end of this summer, I sat through my very first live-captioned worship service. Not one, but four volunteers had stepped forward to rotate typing captions each week. The first typist—a homeschooling mom who was weeks away from delivering her sixth child—allowed her fingers to translate the message I couldn’t hear clearly. The next week, a college student typed the captions so fast and accurately, it seemed as if a professional captionist were delivering the service. A young father typed the next week’s captions, and a caring woman with a heart for reaching those with hearing loss was the captionist after that.

I sat in the pew, amazed to not only understand the message I had so desperately wanted to hear, but to watch other people with hearing loss benefit from captions. A college graduate with lifelong hearing loss offered to pray with me and help develop what had become a full-blown captioning ministry. A hard-of-hearing dad sat with us and provided technical support when the laptop or monitor needed set up. A young, hard of hearing mom friend who didn’t regularly attend church surprised me by showing up to view the captions one Sunday. A married couple—him, hearing; her, hard of hearing—drove more than 30 miles to sit in on a captioned service. An elderly woman with hearing loss sat with us on a recent Sunday.

How can three simple things—a laptop, monitor, and proficient typing hands—allow me to worship so freely now? As I tell family and friends, Lipreading Mom relies on my eyes if not more than my flawed ears, in communication. If I can read something with my eyes when my ears can’t hear well, then my brain makes the listening connection.

I am grateful for captions. I am grateful for a church that provides captions.

Would your place of worship benefit from captions? For the thousands of people with hearing loss, captioning is a necessity. Imagine what a blessing fast typing fingers and a computer would be to those individuals wanting to fully engage in your worship services.

Lipreading Mom asks you to consider.

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4 thoughts on “How Captions Allow Lipreading Mom to Worship

  1. Wow. First of all let me congratulate you on your assertiveness. You came up with a great cost effective solution for you and your church. So I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. . .

    One reason most courts use professional transcribers to record what people say is that people normally speak around 125 words per minute. It is rare to find someone who can type that fast. Even those who can type that fast cannot often keep it up for an hour. You were lucky to find people who could.

    Many court transcribers will transcribe for CART for a fee, usually about the same that it would cost to hire a sign language interpreter. The benefits though, would be that almost anyone in the church could read the screen, and the church could end up attracting new members because of it.

    I like the solution you came up with in a pinch, but I see it as only a small step toward offering legitimate access because of the drawbacks of you having to depend on members in your congregation to type that fast, to always be there and willing to type when you are there, and to be willing to do it for free each week.

  2. Pingback: City & Global REACH Opportunities « Olathe Bible Church

  3. Hi Kim, thanks for your comment, and I agree with your points. If money weren’t an object, our church would provide transcriptionists for every worship service. I will be thankful for the day when all live forms of worship and entertainment are real-time captioned. Until then, I join you in celebrating each success story. Blessings! Shanna

  4. It’s a myth that one sense becomes stronger to compensate for a weakened one. I had an otherwise intelligent friend who asked if my acute sense of smell was the result of my hearing loss. have absolutely no idea how my nose helps my ears, but I do know my sense of sight helps fill in what I can’t hear. And my vision hasn’t improved because of my hearing loss – it’s not so hot either – I just depend on it more.

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