A Vision for Using Computers for Inclusive Worship

by Rev. John Jay Frank

We can increase or decrease the size of projected, printed, or Internet text with our churches' computers. Typically, the tendency is to use smaller fonts (letters) and to squeeze in more words and pictures. Instead of a standard 12-point type (let alone 14-, or 16-point type, or 18), we use 6, 8-, or 10-point font on web sites, in e-mail, and in print. This affects more than people with low vision or low reading ability. Small-print bulletins, sermon outlines, and Bibles are hard for anyone to read in a sanctuary with low lighting. Also, instead of communicating a song, scripture, or message in the most readable format, we make projected text small and more confusing with pictures, designs, colors, and poor letter/background contrast.
Inclusive use of computers could help the more than 25 million Americans of all ages (about 8 percent of the population) who report they cannot see well even with glasses (source: www.afb.org). It could also help the 12 to 14 percent (about 40 million) non-disabled, English-speaking Americans, age 16 and older, who cannot read at a basic literacy level (source: NAAL at www.nces.ed.gov. The Biblical rationale for using computers inclusively is also clear. (1) Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind (Lev. 19:14). (2) Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). (3) We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves (Rom. 15:1). (4) "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matt. 25:40).
The Gospels reveal that people were antagonistic toward those who could not see and who requested help. When two men who were blind shouted at Jesus for help to see, "the crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet" (Matt. 20:31). When people who were blind came to Jesus in the temple, the leaders were indignant (Matt. 21:15). When Bartimaeus, who was blind, cried out to Jesus for help seeing, "many rebuked him and told him to be quiet" (Mark 10:48). When a man cried out for help seeing, "those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet" (Luke 18:39). Moreover, the religious leaders "hurled insults" at the man born blind, and "threw him out" (John 9:28 & 34).
In clear contrast, Jesus called the two men who were blind, asked what they wanted and had compassion on them (Matt. 20:32). Jesus stood still and commanded Bartimaeus to be called. He talked to him and helped him (Mark 10:49). Jesus stopped and asked a man who was blind what he wanted and gave it to him (Luke 18:40). Jesus saw a man who was blind and He acted (John 9:1). He did not wait to be asked. Jesus also sought feedback about the help He gave. After trying to help a man who was blind, Jesus asked if His efforts were successful. The man said things were still not clear, so Jesus went a little further, prayed a little longer, and did a little more (Mark 8:23-26).
Most of us cannot heal blindness, but we can help people to see by how we use our churches' computers. That choice is ours, but have we chosen to create stumbling blocks instead of helping people see? Just as in Biblical times, it is hard for people who cannot see or read well to protest the hurtful use of technology today. Instead, they just participate less or do not show up at all. We know what Jesus did. What can we do?
The knowledge, time, and money needed for enlarging projected or printed text or text posted on the Internet is minimal. It takes a few extra minutes to learn how to use programs in a way that creates the most readable text. Not everyone would come to church and participate, but more could, if we used our computers in an inclusive way.
Optimum readability of projected, printed, or Internet text 
Projection: It is easiest to read projected text when the contrast is a solid, medium-blue background with plain, yellow letters. A darker background enhances glare and gives the effect of staring into a light bulb or a car's headlights. It is harder to read projected text if the background has objects, shading, areas of bright light, patterns, pictures, multiple colors, dark and light areas, lines, or any movement in it.

It is also easiest to read projected text with only 15 to 20 words per screen with the font as large as possible (about 50 to 80 points), that still creates meaningful chunks of words filling the entire screen. Projected text is easier to read if it uses only one type of font with an even thickness, such as Arial (sans serif fonts). It is harder to read text if the letters, words, and lines are condensed or if the letters are thin, uneven, fancy, or if they have italics, cursive, bold, shadow, or are written in all caps.
Printed Material: With printed text, the standard definition of large print is 18-point type (source: the American Foundation for the Blind). The minimum size for large print is 14-point type (source: U.S. Post Office regulations for free mailing for the blind). Normal-sized print is 12-point type. The best contrast for printed material is dark ink on solid white paper. It is hard to read dark ink on a dark background, or light ink on dark paper. It is difficult to read text on paper (or an e-mail, or web site) that has pictures, patterns, multiple colors, shading, or lines. Readability is best with a plain sans serif font without appearance effects and without condensing the letters, words, or lines of the text.
Reducing the margins or slightly lowering the above-printed text standards may be a wise choice when there are just a few words or lines left for a new page. Omitting unnecessary designs may lower costs too. Draft quality printer or copier settings may or may not work well. Just a few, or a few dozen larger 14-, 16-, or 18-point font bulletins, outlines, or other handouts using 8½" by 14" paper, folded in half, may not be too costly.
Bibles: Few Bibles indicate font style or size, or the ink/paper contrast. There are no Bible-publisher standards for the terms "large," "extra large," "giant," or "super giant" print. These may be 11-, 12-, or 13-point font which is not even the minimum size for large print. Bookstore staff is usually unaware of this issue. A truly large print (18-point type) entire Bible in a single volume is only available in a King James Version. On-demand computer printing might make it possible to print other versions in truly large print -- if people request them. Most Bible software programs allow for text enlargement and color and contrast change. Some e-book devices allow for font size changes, but these may not seem large enough if they have little or no color and contrast control and if the lighting is insufficient. Alternatives to reading exist, such as a Bible on tape or CD, but for people with enough vision, or if magnifiers help, holding and reading the Bible may be preferred over listening to it or reading it from a computer.
Internet: On a web site or e-newsletter, add a text-only option and put descriptive tags on pictures. Allow the text to wrap so that the ctrl and + keys, pressed together, will enlarge the text without extending it beyond the screen sides. Set up PDF text so it can be copied and enlarged in a word processor for reading without sideways scrolling.
To see the complete outline on how to use computers for inclusive worship, go to www.crcna.org/pages/disability_compworship.cfm. People who are legally blind who use screen readers or braille notetakers can request a free library of Bibles and Bible reference works on a DVD at www.optasiaministry.org.