Saturday, January 15, 2011

Going to Church

The title of this post could just as easily have been "Going to Class" or "Going to Lecture" or "Going just about anywhere", but church is a place I've go to a lot, so it's been on my mind. And, to make writing this easier, I had to pick something.
When you live with a disability, going to church is an adventure.  It takes more thought for you than it does for the average person.  People in wheelchairs or people with mobility impairments have to think about the availability of elevators or stair lifts and accessible restrooms.  People with visual impairments have to think about whether or not there is a large print or braille hymnal or order of worship available.  People with feeding issues have to navigate how they will take communion.  People with cognitive disabilities have the face judgement (whether conscious or unconscious) and stares and the possibility that they won't understand what is going on.  People with seizures have to think about how others will react if they have a seizure during worship. But none of those things are really things I'm qualified to write about (except for the last one, but it's pretty boring: people who don't know you and that this is "normal" freak out, people who do know you take it in stride and life goes on.  By that time I'm unconscious so I don't notice until later anyways.), at least not on a personal level.  What I can write about is what it is like to go to church when you can't hear. Some of you may recall from "How Much Do You Hear?" that I have hearing loss that makes life a little more interesting, especially places like church, where being able to hear is important.
Even going to my home church, the church where I grew up, is an adventure every week.  DRC has personal listening devices (FM systems) available for those who need them. Growing up, I mostly saw older people with them.  Now, it's mostly just me.  I'm not home all that often anymore, which means the system is used less often and isn't always working the first week I'm home.  However, when it works, it's great.  I pick up a receiver box before I go into the sanctuary. The box is about the size of a deck of cards  and I can clip it to my pocket or waistband (like a transmitter box on a walking microphone).  It has a single ear phone attached to it hangs on my ear over top of my hearing aid.  I switch my hearing aid to "telephone" mode and turn the box on.  If the system is turned on, I get to hear everything that is being picked up by the microphone.  I can turn the volume up loud enough that I can hear it clearly.   Out of all the ways I go to church, this one gives me the most control over the volume that I hear the service at.  I like that.
An FM box and ear piece very similar to the ones I use at my home church

Using the FM system does however have its issues.  Using a personal listening system is a very visible way to worship. People can see the box and they can see the earphone.  Small children stare at me.  Sometimes the earphone does not want to stay on my ear.  If I'm holding a baby or small child, they pull on my wire and it doesn't stay on my ear. Some weeks I have nowhere to clip the receiver box and have to hold it in my hand all service. The FM system amplifies every sound frequency the same much, which isn't the most useful, since I can hear some frequencies better than others (it's simply a limitation of the type of system). Sometimes the batteries die and I have to go to the sound booth (or send my dad to the sound booth) to get new batteries (which is only effective if they have spare batteries. They don't always). The battery change takes time and in that time I miss enough of the sermon that I'm usually pretty lost when I get the box back.  Some weeks the sound tech forgets to turn the system on (that doesn't happen very often) and some times, especially if a lot of wireless microphones are being used, there is interference and I hear more static (fuzz) than anything else.
The system does let me participate in worship and for that I am grateful. It lets me control the volume I participate at, and since the earphone only goes on one hearing aid (I get to choose which side I want to listen on, depending on which ear is being more functional), I can still hear the person next to me (which makes congregational singing easier to follow. A bilateral (two headphone) system would make this more difficult). Also, it only amplifies what is going through the microphone, so I don't get overwhelmed by amplification of ambient noises (bulletins rustling, babies crying, people coughing...) A general amplification system picks all of this up and it gets loud.

When I go to church in Holland, I use a different kind of system.  First Church has a hearing loop installed in their church.  This is the most discrete way that I go to church and I like it the best. DRC used to have a hearing loop, but when they renovated they removed it. If you want to know more about the technicalities of how a hearing loop works, check out this site.  I'm not overly technically minded (and most of you don't care about the specifics), so I'm going to keep my writing simple.  Basically a hearing loop means there is something installed, that when I switch my hearing aid to the right setting, it transmits directly to my hearing aid. It's like having a loudspeaker directly in my ear.  Lots of places (especially in Michigan) have loops.  The lecture hall at seminary even has one (as long as the professor/presenter uses the microphone, it's great.  And in that room, they usually do). I know a place has one when I see this sign (or something similar):
Seeing this sign outside a church or theater or lecture hall makes me happy.
When I go to First Church I don't have to worry about picking up a receiver box or finding a place to clip it. I go into the sanctuary and switch my hearing aid (or both of them) to "telephone" mode.  The sound instantly changes.  Instead of the light conversation of those around me, I hear the organ music and when the liturgist begins worship, it transmits directly to my ear.  Often, for the first part of worship, where we alternate between listening to the liturgist and congregational singing/response, I'll only have one aid switched over to "telephone" mode.  That way I can still hear what's going on at the front and still be connected to those worshiping around me.  When it's time for the sermon and I no longer need to interact with those around me, I switch both ears over. After the sermon, I switch back to one, and when the service is done, I switch to "crowd" mode and I can transition smoothly to conversation.

The other option for going to church is no amplification.  This happens most often when I go to a new church without a T-coil or FM systems available, show up to a new church too late to find out where the FM systems are, or attend "church in the park" or something similar where there is a very rudimentary sound system if there is one at all. This is the most frustrating way for me to go to church since I can't really follow anything at all.  The one exception to this is those rare times where there is an interpreter available. Then, as long as I can see the interpreter, I can follow along.  I've worshiped this way once before and it was wonderful.
Someday I won't have to worry about going to church or anywhere else and not being able to follow what is going on. Until then though, I can do my best to make others more aware of what people like me have to face. 

1 comment:

Angela said...

Wow! So many things I've never even thought about before. It really makes one wonder about the usual complaints about worship...'The drums were too loud.', 'Why don't we sing more modern songs?', 'I hate those songs that just repeat again and again and again."...maybe if we were faced with real complications (ie. hearing/visual impairment)in our worship, we would learn to focus on our hearts instead of worship styles that suit our preferences! Thanks for sharing such a thought-provoking post xo