Digital inclusivity: Carol's story
We are continuing our current series of blog posts, in which individuals share about their experiences of digital inclusivity and accessibility, with the following from Carol.
Let’s see what Carol has found to work well and what aspects of digital content and community she has found not to be accessible and inclusive.
As someone who has been totally housebound for 25 years, the advent of online church due to COVID filled me with hope. I tuned in to the first screened service from my old church with anticipation, only to be greeted by a plethora of such phrases as:
"When we are 'all' together in the building again"
It immediately became apparent that, though watching with everybody else, I was not part of this 'all'. In this and other ways, even though church was online, I felt more excluded than ever.
Not Just A Service To Watch
Online church cannot simply be about providing a Sunday service to watch. They do that on the TV. It has to also be provide community and inclusion, for those participating remotely. When looking for a new church to join online at that time, my main criteria was the degree of interaction and participation that was possible. While everybody was online that was relatively easy. As things have returned to in-person for the majority of the congregation, how can that sense of community be maintained for those of us who remain at home? Herein lies the real challenge.
Seeing some mid-week groups in my church remain, at least partly, online has been a great encouragement. Having the Sunday speakers specifically greet and refer to those watching remotely helps me not to feel a spectator at someone else's event. Somebody hosting the comments section on the Sunday Facebook feed is also a real encouragement. You can be greeted by name, just as if you were physically in church, and the opportunity for prayer can be offered afterwards.
The Human Touch
It is often the little human touches by individuals that count most. The person operating the cameras introducing himself in the comments makes everything seem so much more personal. As do the few people who are there in person but still say hello online. I'd love to see more of this, At that point in the service where people are asked to greet each other, why not suggest they could perhaps say hello to somebody watching remotely? If the in-person congregation are asked a question they could be asked to put their answers online along with the remote viewers. The streaming answers can then, of course, be shown on screen. As with all things, this inclusion works best when all of the congregation are committed to it.
The All Word
To return to my original point about the word 'all'. In my new church, the difficulties caused to me by phrases such as 'When we're all together again' was taken note of and acted upon, which encouraged me immensely. As in all things, communication and listening are so essential. This does not mean that the problem of language has totally disappeared. Over the past few weeks I have been told repeatedly in Sunday sermons that we are 'all' glad that restrictions are over, and that we can get out again etc etc.... For me, as for many in my position, this is simply not the case.
Streaming online means you cannot possibly know the life circumstances and feelings of those who are watching. If we are going to be inclusive, no assumptions should be made. While the needs and concerns of the majority are obviously going to be addressed, replacing the word 'all' with the word 'most' would make such a huge difference, in allowing the minority to still feel welcome and included. The obvious exception to that is in the context of God's love for ALL, including those who are in different circumstances. This is, of course, the very reason why keeping church community online and as inclusive as possible is so important.