Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Would You Ask: Lectures and Sermons

Last week, Suz asked:

"[H]ow do public speaking forums work best for you (aka. lectures, sermons, etc.)?"

Um, seriously, are you people stalking me? In the hiding-in-my-closet-and-spying-on-me-way, not the I'm-following-your-blog way. Yet another timely question, as I just got back from the Desiring God conference in Minneapolis this weekend, which provides the perfect backdrop for this particular query.

One of the things I really love about Desiring God is their no-holds-barred approach to ministry. They have a "whatever you can afford policy" on their resource items and have faithfully provided accommodations at their conferences. They're pretty good about supplying transcripts of online audio or video and they're faithful to translate their library into other languages so that all people might learn about God. This year's conference was no exception. They offered ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters in addition to Spanish and Russian translators. They don't let anything keep them from sharing the Gospel.

I was really thankful to have the interpreters because even though I was sitting in the front row and the speakers' faces were projected on a large screen behind them, it was still difficult to lip read. They moved around a lot or were just a little too far away to catch. And I tried, but there was just something about lip reading on the screen that was difficult. I'm not sure what it was... maybe I rely on body language to help facilitate communication more than I realize and the way the camera was positioned, we mostly only saw the speaker's face on the screen. So because my primary mode of communication - lip reading - was weakened, I was thankful to have the interpreters for help.

However, I was reminded once again how much English, and not ASL, is my first language. I felt like I could mostly keep up with the concept of each session, but the Wordie (oh there I go making up words again) in me really wanted to know exactly what each person was saying. For example, when Al Mohler was talking, he kept using the word "unregenerated" to refer to those who do not know Christ. But the interpreters would use the sign for "non-Christian." The concept is the same, but the nuances were not. "Unregenerated" brings to mind the powerful work of the Holy Spirit and illustrates the lifelessness of the soul apart from God. "Non-Christian," on the other hand, connotes someone who just doesn't go to church or ignores God. Yes, the two words are technically the same, but one brings more depth to the table than the other.

So don't get me wrong. I'm so thankful I even had the option of ASL interpretation because without it, I really would not have gotten anything out of the conference. I think in that environment, I would have benefited more from captioning and as God would have it, I had an opportunity to make the case for it.

On Sunday morning, I decided to head to the exhibit hall to see if I could talk to a Resurgence representative about getting their online videos subtitled. I was disappointed to find out that no one was manning that booth, so I just wandered around for a little bit and read my Bible for a few minutes. Then I decided it was about time to go and find my seat for the last session. As I got up, I saw Scott Anderson, the conference coordinator, walking across the hall. I had the fleeting thought that I should thank him for the interpreters, and I would have talked myself out of it if I had listened to my inner wimp. Instead, I found my feet propelling me in his direction and before I could stop myself, I heard my mouth greeting him and explaining who I was. I thanked him for being considerate of the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing attendees and how much I appreciated Desiring God's faithfulness to come alongside of those of us who just need a little extra help.

And then I did it. I asked him, "I was just wondering, would you be willing to consider offering captioning at future events?" I explained what captioning was and how it worked and what my experience with it has been like. You guys, he took his notebook out and started taking notes! He was so kind and listened intently to everything I explained and really seemed interested when I clarified that not all deaf/hard of hearing people benefit from the same accommodations. I also explained that it's not just deaf/hard of hearing people who benefit from captioning, but people who are learning English as a second language or even people who are visual learners. He said he'd been wanting to do something like that for a while but didn't quite know how to go about it. He gave me his card and asked me to email him to continue the discussion! I was so thankful for - and humbled by - his attention; even though he was a busy, busy man that weekend, he talked to me like he had all the time in the world. Isn't that just so like the Lord?

So yeah, I know that story doesn't have a lot to do with the original question but I thought it was too sweet not to share. :) So anyway, back to business. In that situation, captioning would have helped and I am considering bringing it up for church. Right now, I sit near the front row and lipread the best I can. I think that I generally get enough out of the sermon to be able to discuss it with other people, but I miss a lot of the jokes and I know I'm not getting every single thing the pastor says. He talks fast. He moves around the stage a lot. So I wonder if captioning might enhance the experience for me. I'm hesitant to use an interpreter because I don't like drawing attention to myself that way. And yes, I'm that vain. ;) Plus most interpreters will use ASL and we've already established that that's sometimes not the best solution.

Now, I did have sign language interpreters when I was in college and I will say that in some situations, I feel more comfortable with an interpreter than with captioning. My interpreters, knowing my penchant for English, modified the way they signed so that they were using ASL vocabulary but with English grammar. And a good interpreter works with their client(s) to deliver the information in a way that best fits the client's needs. I had good interpreters.

Anyway, if I'm part of a classroom or some kind of setting that requires listening to one speaker and then going over discussion questions with the people sitting near me (church people - think midsize group/Explore-type settings), an interpreter is a good fit (although, again, I'm too vain to ask for one. Thereisaidit). With captioning, the person typing can only hear whoever is speaking into a special microphone, so if several people are talking at once or taking turns talking, it's cumbersome to pass the mic around. An interpreter can (in my opinion) more easily relay that kind of information and also convey expression. My interpreters could tell me if the professor sounded mad or if another student was confused. I can't always tell tone, so it was helpful when the interpreter would explain the mood and not just the words to me.

I've also had friends take notes for me, which was really helpful. It's hard - not impossible, but hard - to take notes and watch an interpreter at the same time. ;) And I have put myself in classroom-type settings without any accommodations before. I just lipread the best I can and I have friends who, without being asked, will jump in and start writing a summary of what's going on. They're kind like that.

Mk, friends, your turn. Whaddyawannaknow?


  1. The gaps in ASL (among other things) led us to pursue the cued speech. We're not using it a whole lot yet, but your "non-christian" sign reminded me of that.

    They had captioning at all of the AG Bell presentations and I used it a lot. Some of the profoundly deaf speakers were tough for me to understand and I found myself reading along. It's awesome you found a group so willing to accommodate. They might find it's a great help to all sorts of people.

  2. oh my goodness gracious, i'm so flattered. :)

  3. Everyone has different needs and what works for some, doesn't work for others.

    I wear hearing aids in public (sometimes) to help with lip reading in a hearing situation. I prefer an interpreter, but cart is fine too. I also have a ALD but I don't use it often, it can distort things for me.

    In a classroom situation you can have an interpreter and a notetaker, but like I said whatever works best for the individual.

  4. That is a good reminder, Kym, and one I don't think I made very clear in this post. Hearing loss is so different for each person and what works for one may not work for someone else. Thanks for pointing that out!