logo of the United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries
November 2011Vol. 1 No. 7

Pastor Diane with guide dog

Pastor Diane Johnson with

her guide dog 



of the

United Methodist

 Disability Connection


Greetings in Christ! 


This month you will meet several United Methodist pastors who are blind or have significant vision loss.  They share some of the tools they use to carry out their ministries, and reflect on the unique gifts that being blind has brought to their churches. 


We provide you with information about Braille resources for the 10 percent of the legally blind population who do read Braille.  While you may believe that Braille will die out with the introduction of scanned audio technology, consider that a person who cannot read or spell words is technically illiterate. 


These articles may give you insights into ways that  

your church can better incorporate members who are blind and fully utilize their gifts.  Churches are also called to be on the forefront of hiring qualified persons with disabilities, and we urge you to be open to the possibilities that may come along and enrich your ministries.


Let us know about other systems and programs you have in place to welcome and include people who have low vision or are blind.  We will be happy to share your ideas in a future issue of the newsletter.


Lynn Swedberg, Editor

In This Issue
Pastors Who are Blind Help Congregations Employ Gifts for Ministry
Web Accessibility
Ministers with Disabilities Connect Via Caucus

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Pastors Who are Blind Help Congregations

Employ Gifts for Ministry

The Rev. Nancy Webb finds that her blindness helps the congregations she serves realize that "we are the body of Christ and the appointed pastor is not the church.  We need the gifts of everyone." Currently appointed to Grace UMC in Baltimore (MD), Nancy delights in finding and drawing out the gifts of others for the service of God in the church.  She can always find someone to do the tasks she cannot do.  She values the relationships she Pastor Nancy Webb in robeforms with members who assist by reading aloud for her, and finds that people learn about the general church in the process.  She relates well to parishioners who are losing their vision or acquiring other disabilities in later life.  They take courage in her ability to function well, and realize they also can learn to adapt.  Nancy chairs the Baltimore-Washington AC Commission on Disability Concerns and feels that her visibility in using her white cane at conference events increases awareness of the need for physical and attitudinal accessibility.

Because many people are afraid of offending someone with a disability, when the Rev. Diane Johnson meets new people she help them relax and not worry about saying or doing the right thing.  Currently on medical leave after serving as an associate pastor of Wooster (OH) UMC, Diane was responsible for hospital visitation, writing for the church newsletter and preparing the bulletin, preaching once a month, leading a Bible study, and coordinating other educational programs.  She taught staff to help keep walking pathways free of objects, like boxes piled unexpectedly in the hall by a delivery person.  She uses humor to help remind people that she cannot see.  Diane reads Braille and uses a labeler or stylus to label objects, storage shelves, or business cards.  She transcribes written materials such as an order of worship if given the documents ahead of time.  She taught several volunteers to describe events for her, and suggests that one way to learn the basic technique of "audio description" is to listen to movies that have the supplemental audio program.  Pastor Diane Johnson at deskShe relies on walking or public transportation to get around the city, and asked that a wind chime be located at the church entrance to help her locate the door.  She car pools to conference events, or participates using conferencing technology. 


Diane has written a book entitled The View from Under the Pew (see Resource section) to help children better understand how a pastor who is blind carries out her duties with the help of a service dog.  Diane is pleased that The United Methodist Hymnal and The Faith We Sing are available in Braille editions.  She suggests that congregations that reach out to a diverse population, or are near training centers for people who are blind, purchase these hymn books to have available when needed.  She would like to see the denomination be proactive in offering more media that is audio-described and available in alternative formats.  She reminds those who lead worship or committees to use descriptive language to explain anything that is projected, and to provide cues to actions such standing and being seated.  Being the only person still standing can be embarrassing!  Diane also suggests training greeters and ushers so they know how to respond when someone who is blind visits the church.  For more information about Diane's ministry refer to an AP article from Record Publishing.


While both of these pastors use some technology such as JAWS screen reading software, the Rev. Dr. Eric Pridmore has adopted additional devices that help him effectively partner with his wife the Rev. Lisa Pridmore in their ministry at Poplarville (MS) UMC.  Pastors Lisa and Eric Pridmore serving communionHe uses the Victor reader which enables him to scan in the liturgy or other text and break it into phrases.  During worship he advances it phrase by phrase to cue himself about what comes next. He lets the congregation know that the earbud they notice is not tuned into a baseball game!  Eric also values the BibleCourier, a 4 oz. digital audio Bible which holds two translations and is easy to use. 

Eric has learned to be specific with each congregation about the accommodations he needs.  He provides a handout: Guide Dog Etiquette on interacting with people who are blind and who use guide dogs.  He requests that people who approach him state their names, and asks that parishioners in a crowded room seek him out rather than expecting him to make the rounds in the room.  Eric finds that he is in an excellent position to get lay people involved in worship.  He utilizes adults, youth, and children as readers and as communion assistants, and enjoys watching them grow in their skills.  Newly appointed to Poplarville, Eric was intrigued to find that the church hosts and participates in an ecumenical outreach ministry.  Volunteers come twice a week to duplicate Braille Bible pages that are assembled elsewhere and shipped all over the world.  Ironically, one skill Eric has never mastered is reading Braille.

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Web Accessibility

Congregations should make their on-line presence accessible in the same way they strive to make their physical facilities accessible. Basic standards for accessibility can be found at the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This site is frequently updated, and readers can subscribe to an RSS feed to be notified of updates.

When designers think about accessibility, they may add a text description where there are pictures. But accessibility goes far beyond that. Not everyone can use a mouse or a keyboard. Some people are limited to dial-up connections. These relatively slow connections cause problems when images are too large, and older browsers and computers will choke on complex instructions. Too often, in the name of design, type is used that is too small for some to read, along with colors that some people cannot distinguish.

Here is a preliminary list of accessible features:
* tag all photos and other images with an alternate text for users who are blind or who do not have a fast connection - this is especially important for headers and borders
* drop-down menus are difficult for people with hand motion impairments, and many screen readers do not read them well - text or tagged images allow everyone to click on them
* use contrasting colors; put dark text on a light background and do not use colors other than white on a dark background
* do not hard code factors such as width and type size - use percentages and relative sizes; people with vision impairments may increase the size on screen and those who have older computers often have smaller screens and scrolling left to right may be difficult
* use HTML when possible; if you provide downloadable forms or documents, use tagged PDFs or provide a word processor format such as RTF or plain text.

Some good websites that address accessibility concerns are:
* Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (29 USC 794d), the primary Federal standard for accessibility
* Universal Usability a Universal Design approach to web usability
* Web Accessibility page from American Foundation for the Blind
* Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE), checks on-line or uploaded pages


Adapted from a web article by Tim Vermande, Task Force and UM Association of Ministers with Disabilities webmaster and secretary.  Check site periodically for updates.

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Ministers with Disabilities Connect Via Caucus 

United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD) is an official caucus group in the United Methodist Church.  The group was founded in 1990 as the Association of Physically Challenged Ministers of the UMC.  The name was changed in 2009 to reflect a wider mission encompassing all disabilities as well as both lay and clergy ministry.  Some members are appointed to churches and other ministries, and others are retired or on leave from paid ministry.  An important aspect of the Association's purpose is to encourage and support men and women who are sensing a call and exhibit the gifts UMAMD members prepare for worship at 2009 meetingfor ministry but also live with a disability.  Members also advocate for ministries in the UMC that involve children and adults with disabilities in the life of our church and society.  


The causus's theological statement emphasizes the trust in God's creative goodness rather than equating disability with sin or evil.  The ongoing agenda of the Association is to increase dialogue with the United Methodist denomination at every level of leadership.  The church needs the gifts and graces of all of God's people, including those with disabilities.  All persons, both disabled and non-disabled, are welcome to join with the causus to endeavor to live into the promise and hope of God.  For more information, please visit www.umdisabledministers.org.  


Submitted by Rev. Dr. Eric Pridmore, UMAMD Co-chair and Liaison to the Task Force.  Rev. Nancy Webb is on the UMAMD Steering Committee.


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The View from Under the Pew is written for children from theCover for The View from Under the Pew, showing guide dog and church interior perspective of her former guide dog Walter, by Diane Winters Johnson.  Published in 2008 by Abingdon, the book is available through Cokesbury.

Bibles in Braille can be obtained through Braille Bibles and Bibles for the Blind.  

Braille hymnal, large print bulletinsCokesbury carries a 7 volume loose-leaf notebook style Braille version of the United Methodist Hymnal

The Faith We Sing is available in a 3 volume Braille version.  


Sources for Braille label makers (be sure to have someone who reads Braille do any labeling), talking Bibles, brailled board games, Braille speaker phones, tactile labels, etc:

Independent Living Aids


Lighthouse International

Pennies for Puppies through The Seeing Eye is a fundraising project appropriate for church school classes that want to support training of guide dogs.

Christian Record Services for the Blind has a digital lending library with audio magazines and books available.

Learn more about audio description through the American Council of the Blind's Audio Description Project.

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Please note that we have moved our publishing date to the first week of the month, so there was no October issue.  Do submit information about upcoming disability- related events by the end of each month so we can help you with publicity.  We want to hear about your ministries and your ideas for future newsletter articles.  Please use the Task Force e-mail address link below to reach us. Upcoming topics include "inclusive Christian education" and "ministries with individuals and families affected by Alzheimer's disease and other dementias".  
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

United Methodist Task Force on Disability Ministries

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