CHATTANOOGA — “Now we’re offering ‘writing on the wall,’” said David Harrison, somewhat facetiously, referring both to the time God did just that (see Daniel 5) and to captioning for hard of hearing people.
Recently The Access Church premiered captioning of its Sunday morning worship service, Harrison reported. The use of the technology is rare, certainly in churches, said Harrison. Captioning is mostly available at the University of Tennessee – Chattanooga and other colleges with programs for hard of hearing students.
Captioning is similar to the feature on televisions except in this case it is just the words spoken and sung in the service being projected on a screen or wall.
The feature at The Access Church was such an attraction that one woman traveled from Atlanta to experience the technology.
Harrison of the ministry, Let My People Hear, said, “People with hearing loss makes up the largest untapped missions field in America.”
“There are 50 million people in America suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss.
“That number will double due to use of iPods, rock music, and noise-induced hearing loss at work,” reported Harrison. “The Hearing Health Foundation reports that 60 percent of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan come home with hearing loss and tinnitus caused by gunfire and jet engines,” he added. Only 2 percent of people in America suffering from hearing loss use sign language, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“Churches focus on getting hearing people into their churches. Why not try to reach people who need help to ‘hear’ the Word of God and live in neighborhoods all around their churches?” asked Harrison who has served in various ways in Canada and the U.S. for about 58 years despite being profoundly hard of hearing himself. In fact, he ministered much of his life to people who were not hard of hearing, including serving as a pastor.
Captioning is the answer and is available at reasonable costs, he explained.
A church can add the captioning feature to their church for about $65-120 an hour. The church needs a computer and Internet service. The free phone call service, Skype, is used. If the church has a screen or TV monitor, that helps as the words being projected can be easily seen but a wall also can be used, explained Harrison.
Another way a church can help the hard of hearing is by offering an FM hearing system, which costs about $1,100 for four units. Some churches have these but they don’t promote them so they aren’t used. The system also needs to be “out in the open” in a church and ready, he said.
Harrison explained that captioning also will meet some needs of a deaf person, but they also rely on communicating with others by sign language so just captioning will not meet their needs.
He recently started serving at The Access Church here, he said with a chuckle.
“I couldn’t believe my ears,” said Harrison, who uses technology to communicate. “God has an unusual sense of humor … the only name better would be The Accessible Church.”
He understands hard of hearing people. Just like some children with this challenge, he was placed in special education classes for seven years through the 8th grade and classified as mentally challenged. He went on to earn two college degrees.
“God still uses me,” stated Harrison. He was recently commissioned as a missionary of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. He also is author of the book, Lord You Know I Can’t Hear.
Christians should welcome people with hearing loss, said Harrison. They often don’t want to admit their challenges or “be singled out.”
He and his wife, Cathy, who is hearing, offer a support group for people with hearing loss at The Access Church. They also will assist any church to develop a ministry to people with hearing loss.
Harrison is very thankful to be welcomed at The Access Church, the second campus of White Oak Baptist Church, Chattanooga. Harrison is especially thankful to Tony Wilson, pastor, White Oak Baptist, which has recently begun revitalizing the church.