Photo: Keeping people connected is at the heart of Epping Church of Christ’s move to online captioning, a ministry led by church member Bec Stewart (right).

The recent move to online church services and online gatherings brings with it a mounting risk of isolation for a group of people you might not think of: the one in six Australians with impaired hearing.

As a way to include these people, Bec Stewart, a member of Epping Church of Christ, has launched a live-captioning component to their online church service and Bible study group. She has experienced first-hand how isolating hearing loss can be and is passionately doing everything she can to prevent others going through the same pain.

“A few years ago my hearing was at a level where I couldn’t go to church or Bible study without feeling more isolated by being there watching everyone else connect, but being unable to do so myself. I just gave up going,” she said. “It was a really dark time for me and I want to avoid other people getting to that point.

“It’s very hard to keep up in a group conversation when you struggle with your hearing. You’re piecing together what you hear, lip reading and guessing to fill in the gaps, and by the time you’ve processed what people are saying someone else is talking and you never get to join in the conversation.

“Not only that, but now with everything online, if others don’t have great sound on their computers, are in an echoing room, or have background noise, it can be impossible to hear at all. The result is it can feel more isolating than not participating at all and that’s the last thing we need right now.”

Each week, Bec reaches out to Lee, her captioner, who sends her a link to a website that comes up with captions as the church service is being streamed. She then shares that link via Facebook with the people she knows who suffer from deafness. An encouraging number of people have been accessing the captions, including people from other churches who are struggling to connect due to their hearing.

“The Bible study group we have just started meets online, and because we all know what it’s like, we take the time to make sure everyone has the chance to keep up with the conversation and contribute. We also utilise the chat to fill in the gaps,” she said.

“My dream is that the church would be the place for individuals who are struggling who might not be the majority. I want the church to be the opposite of the world, where it’s too much effort because you’re just one person. That’s the message of the Gospel: you are worth it even if it’s just for you.”

                                                                                                         By Emily Ferguson