News from Denmark 2006-2008

There are 800,000 people in Denmark with hearing problems of such a degree that they have problems following an ordinary conversation with a little background noise.  82.1% of these are members of the Danish church.  Out of the 800,000, there are 300,000 using a hearing aid or other form of mechanical aid.  8-9,000 have practically become deaf, and for the sake of comparison, there are about 4,500 congenitally deaf.
Two pastors of hard of hearing
There are two full time pastors employed in Denmark for the hearing impaired and deafened. One west of Storebælt and one east. I am the one that covers Western Denmark.
My job is to help holding services with particular consideration to hearing, i.e. where we use subtitles and of course telecoils. After a service, there is a gathering with refreshments, where we also use written interpreters (someone who simultaneously writes on a screen in Danish what is being said) and of course telecoils.
It’s also my job to help arrange meetings amongst hearing impaired. I am also employed as the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs’ consultant for telecoils in churches and meeting rooms.
“Contact pastors”
As my parish is relatively large (half of Denmark!) I am fortunate to receive a lot of help from the 40 or so ordinary parish pastors in my area, who have agreed to be what is referred to as “contact pastors”. They have received some form of special training to give them a better understanding of the circumstances of hearing impaired than can normally be expected from a parish pastor. They will also be able to advise on the purchase and maintenance of a telecoil in churches.
Even though the contact pastors are not paid for their efforts on behalf of the hearing impaired, they still play an enormous part. They help maintain awareness of showing special consideration to the hearing impaired – a regard which can otherwise easily be forgotten. As I travel around the country, I can clearly feel when I visit a parish, whether there is a contact pastor there. Understanding for the problems of the hearing-impaired is so much greater. As such, the contact pastors not only support the hearing-impaired, but also me, as a regional pastor. Without them I would have to start at the very beginning every time.
Trend among certain pastors
Let me now tell you of a very interesting development which has occurred within the last year:
The background is that in my time as a regional pastor, I have tried to get more pastors interested in holding services with special regard for the hearing impaired. Some of the contact pastors already hold services, using such aids as subtitles, even when I can’t be present. Others work closely with the local hearing impaired association to arrange services with special regard for the hearing impaired. This is a good trend which depends heavily on local resources of course.
Church of Revning
An interesting development is that the Revninge parish council on the island of Funen has decided that it will be a church for everyone – including the hearing impaired! What’s even more important here is that it is not me who made this decision, nor even the local contact pastor. Neither was it the bishop, dean or the Ministry – it was the local, elected members of the parish council that the church in Revninge will be for everyone, including the hearing-impaired!
Something else that’s new here is that the parish council is going to pay for a sign assisted communication interpreter out of its own funds for certain services on a regular basis. Naturally, telecoil is found in churches, but of all the extra aids available, a sign language interpreter has been chosen. A brave – and interesting initiative. Because statistically, there are only 8-9000 people who have become deaf in the whole country, and secondly, only a small number of these have learned sign assisted communication. And how many of those will go to Revninge church on the island of Funen?
Nevertheless, a major need has been exposed in our church, which not only exists amongst the hearing impaired and deaf, but also amongst those who have learned to sign. A lot of other people in the parish think it’s great that they can now see what’s being said. It may well be that they don’t understand every sign, but it is still a form of visual communication, which apparently has a much wider impact than you might expect. Even normally hearing people claim that they get a lot out of attending a service with sign communication. With the introduction of what is apparently a relatively limited aid – signing – people are beginning to flock to the services in Revninge. And further up in the system, the fact that the hearing impaired can make a difference when it comes to new ways of delivering a service has been noticed. The project is regarded as means of bringing new life and growth to the church!
But on a national basis, the trial is even more interesting, as sign assisted communication might become the link between the congenitally deaf and the hearing impaired. The deaf group will shrink over the next few years, thanks to Cochlear Implant operations, which will cause a shift from the deaf to the hearing impaired environment. Sign assisted communication is perhaps the way to integration of these two groups.
What is interesting for visual communication is that fixed screens in churches are on the rise. There are already 6 churches with screens in Denmark, of which 5 are in Jutland.
New building regulation – good news
One of the best bits of good news we’ve had in many years is that a new building regulation has been introduced in Denmark, which stipulates the requirements for new buildings and renovations. It was published in January of this year, and includes – for the first time ever – that telecoils MUST be installed in all rooms accessible to the public in Denmark, which of course includes churches and church meeting rooms. It also states that such systems must be of a good quality and regularly maintained!
Søren Skov Johansen
Regional pastor for the hearing-impaired west of Storebælt/IVSS Churchear
Hvittorp, Kirkkonummi, Finland, 1.-6. of September 2008