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Since the quarantine began, we, as pastors and churches, have been facing unprecedented challenges.

Like many ministry groups and churches, Jabez Ministries, a ministry to persons with disabilities, has moved online. This has disadvantages and advantages.

The disadvantages first: Besides the inconvenient though necessary “stay-at-home” order, persons with disabilities face additional challenges. Here are some examples.

Consider the obstructing nature of face masks. Hearing-impaired persons, such as myself, can’t read lips through a face mask, and the clarity of voice is interfered with.

Persons with other disabilities report that not being able to see facial expressions hinders their ability to communicate properly with others. Social anxieties increase, and misunderstandings are prone to happen.

I’ve had persons report that they have “shut down” while at work when customers have lost patience over such miscommunications.

To some, social distancing resembles social avoidance. Many persons with disabilities have past and latent feelings of being left out or ignored.

This discomfort is not true of all persons I’ve talked with. Some persons with Asperger’s or similar disabilities report they are comfortable with the distancing to some degree, but those with ADD and ADHD are not all that comfortable with it.

While all agree that distancing is necessary, some of us wish it were otherwise.

Communicating and forming community online creates challenges. Communicating through a machine is an imperfect means of talking to one another.

We’ve experienced that Sunday worship online doesn’t really feel like worship that we’re used to, or a Face Time call isn't like a face to face chat. Imagine, then, having a cognitive disability, learning disability, or hypersensitivity issues and the differences can become many more times a problem. 

Speaking as a hearing-impaired person and having processing and learning disorders, I was a bit daunted by the prospect of having to do ministry with others who also have disabilities. We began with Facebook Messenger and phone text messages. It works but it has its limitations. These are poor substitutes for personal communication.

My reluctance to use video chat rooms is based on experiences involving time delays, poor video reception, difficulty reading lips over a screen, and confusion between what I could hear matching up with what saw. Those aren’t insurmountable issues, and I did not have a reason to face them until now. 

That brings me to the advantages: connecting online has allowed us to form a new kind of community. While it took some doing, I’ve been able to overcome my initial insecurities thanks to a group effort put forward by Jabez Ministries Leadership team, Team Jabez, and others involved in this ministry.

We must pay attention to the needs of all who participate. We are mindful of things such as back lighting, background noise, the person’s face being clearly seen, no rapid movements that cause the person’s phone to freeze or skip, and whatever else is needed to keep this community comfortable and communicating.

I would even say that some of the more introverted members of this ministry have shown themselves to be a bit more open and willing to share.

As all of us involved in this ministry have become more comfortable talking and meeting online, we’ve formed groups that meet at designated times and committed ourselves to online pastoral care to address the fears and the boredom we’re all facing.

Because of these positive things that have come out of this time of quarantine, I find the words of James resonate with me daily:

James 1:2-4 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

All of us face challenges that we didn’t have until a few months ago. The quarantine has forced certain things upon us. The future is not clear. So, then, how do we adapt to the current situation as pastors and churches?

Unfortunately, some things we have to accept as is. Social distancing is necessary. The best thing we can do for persons with disabilities in this culture of isolation is new to most of us. But to some people with disabilities, it’s not so new. Be patient. Communicate well and often. Be reassuring.

Have video chats with persons with disabilities. And when you do, make sure the light is in front and not behind you. Don’t try to multitask, and make sure you device is in a stable position. Jerking movements are distracting.

In more public settings, speak clearly, remember you’re speaking with a mask on that will affect your pitch and clarity. Also your physical expressions are restricted. 

Consider wearing a see-though mask. There are sites were these can be purchased.

These recommendations are painted with a fairly broad brush. Each disability affects each person differently. There are many variables to consider. Don’t be afraid to ask what would help.

Let us continue to pray and persevere in these times and mature in the grace that God has given each of us.


Below: Joyce Borger, director of CRC Worship Ministries, wearing a clear face mask. Photo used by permission. 

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Thank you for addressing these issues in such a clear, straightforward way, Peter. You have named several important challenges that many of us have discovered but have not articulated as you have.

As you've noted, the use of face masks is a particular challenge that will be with us for the foreseeable future, whether they're manufactured and sold commercially or are made at home. It seems the majority of people consider only the functional aspects ("Is this as protective as an N95 mask?"), or they try to make a fashion statement. For me, personally, because of physical limitations in reaching behind my head to secure a mask, I need assistance just to put on a face mask. Ever tried asking a stranger to help you put on your face mask, and in doing so compromise the six feet of distancing we're all supposed to practice?

More importantly, you have identified the incredible challenge faced by people with hearing loss: the inability to speech read and observe facial expressions, plus the muffled sound that's inherent in speaking through a mask. I have yet to see someone wearing a see-through face mask. Have you? They're not readily available—can you post some links to reputable manufacturers or distributors?—nor have I noticed anyone demonstrate or give instructions for making them at home.

Thanks again for posting this, Peter.

I was just talking with a friend today who told me about the challenges for black men regarding masks. Others may think that a black man wearing a mask is up to something sinister, and they may think if he is not wearing a mask shows that he's eager to defy authority. Another example of how this pandemic amplifies our prejudices. 

 I've seen seen see-through masks advertized, but I haven't seen anyone wearing one yet.  

Yes, unfortunately, black people have found another wall to bump into.  When prejudice alters the way you look at certain groups of people all your assumptions about them are tainted with it, and it seems that whatever they do, they just can't win.  It's the, "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" conundrum.  I wish I could say it's better for black people in Canada, but I don't know.  Maybe not quite as bad as in the States, because here at least they have access to free healthcare like everybody else, but a couple of years ago I read about a black man who had parked his car somewhere to read a book, and somebody sent the police to check him out.  They thought he was acting suspisciously.  That was in one of the Maritime provinces.  When the police arrived he told them he was reading and showed the officers his book, and they left him alone.  Here we don't have the cultural habit of lynching black men, which is a good thing, but since I'm not black, I can't say what they have to deal with that "white" people don't.  There is a racial bias, but it doesn't affect only black people.  Natives and other groups suffer from it too.

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