Monday, August 29, 2005

Signing for singing

There is a newish phenomenon that can be seen in some churches. We saw it first in a church we went to in Brazil, and we've seen it now at a large Anglican church in Lancashire. During the singing, one person (or two or more people) stands in front of the congregation, signing the words of the song for the benefit of any deaf people who might read sign language, in a kind of semi-expressive dance.

Now, I'm all for equality of access. We need to do what we can to ensure that what happens in church - and what happens in any other communal setting - is as accessible to as many people as possible. To that end, I try and ensure that language I use communicates as simply as possible; I provide fill-in sheets to help children understand what I am saying; I prefer the use of modern language songs and versions of the Bible so that non-English speakers - or people who aren't familiar with 17th Century English, for that matter - aren't discriminated against.

But this signing seems to have little to do with accessibility, for two obvious reasons. Firstly, they don't bother signing the sermon, or the reading - both of which should be more fundamental aspects of a church service than the singing, to both deaf and non-deaf alike. Secondly, at least in the case of the church in Lancashire, the words were being projected for everybody anyway.

It seems to me that this had more to do with a) having a low-key form of expressive dance at the front of the church b) having some people who would not be disappointed with having more attention directed at them (during the communion, at least one of the "signers" were wandering around the platform, not quite managing to stay out of the way).

This signing sounds like a great, inclusive idea. It's just that when you think about it, you end up wondering whether it actually achieves anything at all. It would be really interesting to know from a deaf person whether signing during the songs is something that they actually find at all edifying.