Is everyone welcome at your church? A blog series on digital inclusivity
by Laura Neal and Emma Major
So first off, let's introduce ourselves.
Laura trained as a lay minister at Ridley Hall in Cambridge but went on to set up YouBelong, an online Christian community for people with chronic illness and/ or disability, due to her own experiences of chronic illness, and the questions that arose from that about faith and inclusion in the Church. You can find Laura and YouBelong on Twitter and on Facebook to see what we are up to and get involved in the community. You can also find out more about YouBelong at www.youbelong.org.uk.
Emma is a pioneer lay minister, blind wheelchair user, poet and artist. She has written books about mental health, ministry and poetry, including being the author and illustrator of Little Guy: Journey of Hope published by Wild Goose Publications. You can find her on social media @emmuk74 and on her blog LLM Calling where she shares her prayers, art and poetry to encourage, bless and affirm people.
The Digital Inclusivity Series
Each month we will highlight a barrier to digital inclusion, hear from those who find themselves excluded from digital church communities and discuss how things can be improved.
We will be kicking off with the barriers the deaf community encounter online since it is World Hearing Day on 3rd March.
But before that, let's define some terms we'll be using a lot.
Church - a group of people connected in the love of God to worship, support each other and serve the world.
Community - people living their lives together online or offlinehonestly and openly and supporting each other in the ups and downs of life.
Disability - a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' negative effect on someone's ability to complete normal daily activities due to lack of accessibility eg ramps, hearing loops, inappropriate lighting and derogatory attitudes. Disability includes people with invisible disabilities and those living with chronic ill health.
Accessibility - ensuring that everyone can join in with their community and it's activities, without needing any extra actions or effort. For example, clear layout and fonts, subtitles on videos and alt text on images.
Inclusivity - ensuring that our digital communities are not just accessible FOR everyone, but are set up to INCLUDE everyone. Being inclusive means making sure that everyone feels part of the community rather than just accommodated.
Welcome - admitting people into the community as an equal and valued member. Much more than just saying hi, being welcomed feels like you are wanted.
Belonging - a sense of fitting in and feeling like you are an important member of a community. This is the point at which people feel part of a family - fully known and loved as they are.
The purpose of digital inclusivity is to ensure that everyone:
can access your online content,
feel welcomed by your church
and in time know that they belong to your community.