This article is part of our Spring 2020 Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses on people living with visual impairments. This article was written by Casey Dutmer who attends First Reformed Church in Grandville, MI. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers.
Totally blind since birth in 1952, I grew up at Beverly Reformed Church in Wyoming, MI. My mother or grandmother read the Sunday school and catechism lessons to me, because no materials were available in Braille.
As an adult, I requested Braille hymnal, but the consistory and the minister opposed it. They said it was too much money to spend on one person, the one blind person in the congregation. I felt angry and disappointed, wondering why mission work among people with disabilities in our own community was less important than missions around the world.
Eventually a fellow church member donated the money for a Braille hymnal. When the church saw how much it meant to me, I was asked to teach catechism or Sunday school. After I agreed, materials for both were put in Braille, thanks to assistance from Jim Vander Laan, another blind person who was the director of CRC Disability Concerns.
As hymnal usage has declined and worship services have become more complicated, I've continued to ask for accommodations. In the late 1990s, my congregation changed hymnals. When the publisher refused to allow the book to be put into Braille, the church purchased a scanner that read the material to me. I was able to convert the hymns each week to Braille with my Braille Notetaker. Using these and Microsoft Word documents, I built my own hymnal.
As praise music has become a bigger part of worship, I still need Word files in advance. Purchasing my own technology devices has allowed me to find information on the Internet and use audio books. Better technology has allowed easier access to church material, but many books and Bible study materials are not accessible to a totally blind church member.
Technology does not change the hearts and minds of people to provide information in a format that people who are blind can use. Everyone needs to advocate for a lifetime to achieve this, which is one the reasons I agreed to become my church's disability advocate.