Posted: 24th May 2013 by Lin Ball
What welcome do you get when you go to church as a blind person? As a disabled person? As the carer of a disabled person?
The welcome that churches offer is the topic of a lively discussion with three differently disabled people on the Reflections radio programme being aired on Disability Sunday, June 2nd.
‘When a church makes itself a better place for people with disabilities… it also becomes a better place for everybody,’ says Tony Phelps-Jones. Tony has hearing loss and has worked for many years with Prospects, the Christian organisation for people with learning disabilities.
Tony feels that there has been a big change in people’s response to disabled people since the 2012 Paralympics – but there’s plenty of room for improvement.
‘If people within a church... are really keen to make people feel welcome, included and comfortable - even if there are things that are difficult such as… steps that cannot be replaced and therefore there’s some inconvenience - if people’s attitudes are good and positive, people with disabilities will accept that and they will feel included and welcomed.’
Tony says he understands why churches find it challenging when people with learning disabilities turn up. People can feel fearful about communicating in ways that are understood, or worry that they will not understand what people with learning disabilities say. But, he adds, ‘people with learning disabilities are no different to anybody else. They are people with likes and dislikes and preferences… they are people that we need to get to know and develop a relationship with.’
Another contributor to the discussion, autism advisor Ann Memmott, describes churches as a ‘mixed bag’ in terms of the welcome extended to people with autism. She is on the autistic spectrum herself and recognises the difficulties people have in understanding how best to make people with autism feel comfortable in church. Often there is a real sense of panic when children with autism arrive in the Sunday School. But this is a situation that churches need face, since the latest statistics show that one child in every 50 is on the autism spectrum
‘Getting good advice at the start is very important,’ says Ann, pointing out that it is a common misconception that autism is a behavioural condition. ‘Mostly it’s a sensory processing condition,’ she explains. This means that crowded situations can be overwhelming. But simple changes can make a big difference.
Dr Mike Townsend, who has been blind from childhood but is also a church leader, is keen to help other church leaders understand what it’s like for a blind person going to church. His main message is for people not to make assumptions, but to ask people about the sort of help they need. Attitudes need to change, he says, and sometimes that means taking risks, but also treating people as people, not as disabilities.
All three people involved in the radio discussion have contributed to a new book called MAKING CHURCH ACCESSIBLE TO ALL – Including disabled people in church life, newly published by Bible Reading Fellowship. The book is available from www.brf.org.uk , from www.prospects.org.uk and from Christian bookshops. And it’s available to buy or borrow from Torch in braille, giant print and DAISY audio. As well as looking at issues around blindness, learning disabilities and autism, the book also contains chapters on welcoming people with mental health conditions, hearing loss and mobility issues. Although the advice is directed primarily at churches, the principles are important for other organisations too.
How can you listen in to this discussion programme? Reflections is broadcast on RNIB Insight Radio – online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188 and freesat 777 – on Sundays at 9am, with repeats on Tuesdays at 2am and Fridays at 1am. And it’s on Premier Christian Radio – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725 on Sundays at 4pm. The programmes can also be heard on the Torch website a few days after first broadcast: go to http://www.torchtrust.org/smartweb/downloads/downloads and scroll down to the bottom of the page.
Posted: 14th May 2013 by Lin Ball
An internationally famous children’s choir will visit Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre to give a concert on May 24th. The Watoto Children’s Choirs have been delighting people around the world since the work was founded in Uganda in 1994. The choirs are advocates for the estimated 50 million children in Africa who have been orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS, war, poverty and disease. The ministry has also been extended to reach out to vulnerable women as well as the war-affected community in Northern Uganda, including the many child soldiers who were forced to become weapons of war.
Accompanied by a team of adults, the choir presents the Watoto mission through stories, music and dance. The concert will be held in the lovely grounds of Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre, open from 5.30pm for you to bring your own picnic. The performance will begin at 7pm.
HRC, the venue for most of Torch’s specialist holidays for blind and partially sighted people, is at 4 Hassocks Road, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, BN6 9QN. There is no charge for the concert, but a love offering will be taken up for Watoto. For enquiries: email TorchHRC@torchtrust.org For more about the choir: www.watoto.com/the-choir
Posted: 1st May 2013 by Lin Ball
‘God loves us no matter what size we are, no matter how fit or unfit we are,’ says fitness guru Rosemary Conley. ‘But we owe it to God to take care of this one body that he has given us – and we owe it to ourselves.’
Rosemary’s story is featured in a Reflections radio programme. Interviewed by Torch radio producer Rachel Dalby, she describes how her life was at a crossroads in 1986.
Rosemary had developed a serious gall stone problem; her diet class business was about to end and she was struggling to keep up her mortgage payments; she had divorced her first husband and a second relationship was in trouble. Then, sitting in a hospital outpatients department, she saw an ad for a book called Power for Living which she felt she had to read. The ‘power for living’ turned out to be a commitment to following Jesus Christ.
‘The book spoke to me about Christianity in words I could understand,’ explained Rosemary (66). ‘I hadn’t understood that when Jesus died on the cross, he had paid for the sins of Rosemary Conley.’ When she prayed the prayer in the book, asking God to be in charge of her life, she felt different. ‘I just felt utterly washed through, utterly new,’ she says.
Before that time, Rosemary said she was ‘a fire alarm Christian’ – only speaking to God in a crisis. Though her commitment to be a Christian was followed by enormous challenges, she says that she no longer worried, feeling confident that God was with her. Rosemary got back together with her ex-boyfriend Mike, who also became a Christian, and they married four months later – and have been together now for 27 years. Almost overnight she became a household name, largely due to the runaway success of her international bestseller, The Hip and Thigh Diet. That led to tours, videos, a TV show, and – in 1993 – the launch of her fitness club.
‘My world was like a volcano that had exploded in a very positive way,’ laughs Rosemary. She feels her success has given her an opportunity to speak out about her faith in an industry – diet and fitness – that is not always looked on as being good or ethical.
You can hear the full interview with Rosemary Conley on Rosemary Conley’s Story being broadcast on Reflections on Sunday May 12th. Rosemary is also featured on Reflections this coming Sunday, May 5th, talking about Steps School, the school in Leicestershire for young children with motor disabilities, of which she is patron.
Reflections can be heard on RNIB Insight Radio – online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188 and freesat 777 – on Sundays at 9am, with repeats on Tuesdays at 2am and Fridays at 1am. It can also be heard on Premier Christian Radio – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725 – on Sundays at 4pm. The programmes can also be heard on the Torch website a few days after first broadcast: go to the Downloads page from the drop down menu top left of the home page, and scroll down to the bottom of that page.
Posted: 15th April 2013 by Lin Ball
A Derby church hit the headlines of the national press and the BBC when its creative use of new technology broke through access barriers for people with sight loss in the congregation.
Robert Gill (58) explained how this was making a real difference to his enjoyment of the services.
‘I’ve always had a lazy left eye, but my right eye used to be 20/20 with spectacles. But then in 2009 I had a detached retina in my good eye. Six operations later, all that can be done has been done, but I can see very little with it and have to rely on my left. I can’t drive but use a symbol cane to get around. In the past, I had to use a large print hymnbook at church together with a magnifier.’
Then, like many churches, St John’s Mickleover moved to having a digital projector and screen – but for Robert seeing the screen was impossible.
‘Quite a few churches think that a screen and projector will be the end to all their problems – but it’s not for people with sight loss,’ said Robert.
But this was where some imaginative thinking came in. The church had already set up a WiFi spot for general community use. Robert already had an iPad. He suggested the material from the screen could be sent via WiFi to his iPad. That worked – and not only did he benefit but The Cloud (the BskyB WiFi provider) donated 20 small tablets so that others in the church who were struggling to see the screen could use those.
Robert is ‘very pleased’ with the way he can now access church services, and feels other churches could use technology to achieve the same thing.
Apart from a few years in his teens and early 20s, Robert has always been a churchgoer. He moved to Derby in 1981 and since about 1985 has attended St John’s. From 2002 Robert and his wife Margaret have run their own accountancy company from home. They have two daughters – one married and living in Cheshire, and another completing a PGCE.
If you’d like to know more about the process in which a church which describes itself as ‘in no way a high tech church’ helped its members with sight loss, go to the website www.stjohnsmickleover.org.uk and click on a link near the bottom of the home page called ‘this is how we did it’.
TORCH TRUST works with churches in many ways to enable improved access for people with sight loss. To find out more about resources, training or our Foursight for the Church programme, email email@example.com .
Posted: 4th April 2013 by Lin Ball
Much of what Torch Trust is involved in comes from an understanding that sight loss frequently brings with it loneliness and isolation. One of its newer projects – telephone friendship groups called TorchTalk – will be featured in a radio interview this month. Producer Rachel Dalby interviews Jan Turner, who is blind. Jan has been involved in TorchTalk from its beginning. One of the first people to be trained as a TorchTalk facilitor, she has now become a co-ordinator for the project.
‘We get together through telephone conferencing,’ explains Jan. ‘Everyone rings a central number and enters a code which takes them into a virtual conference room.
‘We talk about all sorts of things. We have good times! TorchTalk is open to people of any faith or none, like all Torch does, but to take part you really need to be sympathetic to the Christian ethos.’
As a facilitator, Jan’s role is to help the conversation flow, and to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak. As a co-ordinator, she will be looking for more people who want to participate in the groups, link them up with others and support them as they begin with the group.
Currently there are five groups running. In the radio programme, Jan explains that others are in the pipeline – not just simple friendship groups but special interest phone groups based on books, Bible study or even holiday experiences.
‘I enjoy talking to people but I believe there are many people with sight loss who don’t have that opportunity. Those who have started to participate in TorchTalk really look forward to it.’
To hear the interview with Jan, tune into Reflections on Sunday April 28th. The programme is broadcast at 9am on RNIB Insight Radio – available online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188 and freesat 777. And it’s also on air on Premier Christian Radio on Sundays at 4pm, which can be found online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725. Within a few days of first broadcast, the programme can also be heard on the downloads page of the Torch website.
Posted: 13th March 2013 by Lin Ball
What would your church magazine or weekly news sheet look like if it could be produced in a range of type sizes that would suit people who have difficulty reading standard print? Torch Trust is working on a web-based automated system to make that happen, which we are planning to launch this year – and if you’re attending the Christian Resources Exhibition in May there’ll be an opportunity to try out the new system for yourself.
‘With an ageing population experiencing sight loss problems, churches up and down the land are having to consider the usefulness of everything from the printed materials they use in church and home groups through to their data and video projection,’ said Andrew Nicholson, Chief Operating Officer for Torch Trust.
‘More materials would be suitable for people losing their sight due to macular degeneration or cataracts if they were produced in a larger type size, along with consideration of the font shape and the background colours.’
For some time Torch has been pioneering software to enable some of its Christian magazines for people with sight loss to be sent out in a variety of sizes to suit individual needs. But now this facility is to be made available to churches to do so for themselves. They will be able to log onto the website and follow step-by-step instructions to produce their own materials on demand.
If you would like to see the system in operation and discuss your own particular needs, bring along a Word file of one of your church magazines to the Torch stand in the Churches for All Zone at CRE. You can have it converted into one or more alternative sizes and take it away with you on a Torch data stick – all completely free.
CRE INTERNATIONAL 2013 runs at Sandown Park, Esher, KT10 9AJ, from Tuesday May 14th to Friday May 17th. The Torch Trust stand can be found with a grouping of other disability charities known as the CHURCHES FOR ALL ZONE, an area which will have its own programme of talks and interviews during each of the exhibition days. If you would like a complimentary ticket to CRE, contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and for more information about the event itself, go to www.creonline.co.uk
Posted: 20th February 2013 by Lin Ball
Reading audio books becomes a lot easier from this month! Torch Trust is bringing audio material to blind and partially sighted readers through a simple memory stick – a lightweight device the size of a pack of chewing gum. The memory stick carrying the audio book slots into a small player, which is a box not much bigger than a brick and with large bright coloured buttons designed for ease of use by blind and partially sighted people.
The announcement that this new service is available is being made following a successful trial of the new memory sticks and players.
Now books in the Torch Trust Library of Christian resources will be made available on the memory sticks – free, as they always have been, to people who are registered blind. And the players, which cost £24, will be delivered from RNIB, who have worked closely with Torch on the project.
As well as Christian books in all genres, daily Bible reading notes such as Daily Bread or Every Day with Jesus can be supplied in this format.
Readers who took part in the pilot scheme have responded with enthusiasm.
‘I am enjoying using the box,’ emailed Jan of St Albans. ‘I am very encouraged by the reproduction. Thank you once again for letting me be part of trying it out.’ Jan has enjoyed listening to a book about the late John Stott, Inside Story by Roger Steer, and has moved on to enjoy Karen Kingsbury’s Red Gloves Collection.
Another listener said, ‘I’m really, really pleased with my library books on memory stick. The player is so easy to use and so clear. I’m thrilled to bits.’
One woman in her 90s felt that the new memory sticks had made life easier for her. ‘The doctor told me I had to rest and put my feet up,’ she said. ‘When I had cassette books I had to get up frequently and change the tapes. Now I can sit back and relax and listen to a whole book on the memory stick straight through. It’s great!’
No one surveyed wanted to return to cassettes. ‘The old cassettes used to get tangled,’ remarked one person. ‘What a fuss!’ And another reader was so delighted, she got through 34 books in 10 weeks.
If you’d like to ask about the new service, email email@example.com or call 01858 438260.
Posted: 5th February 2013 by Lin Ball
Are you preparing yourself spiritually for Easter? Torch has a range of helpful resources available. The York course is among the most popular Lent studies every year, and for 2013 it’s called Glimpses of God, written by the popular David Winter. This is a five-session course for individuals or small groups, with contributions from a range of well-known personalities including Bishop Stephen Cottrell, Rev Professor David Wilkinson and the Right Hon Shirley Williams. The focus of the course is how to find strength and encouragement when living in turbulent times. Glimpses of God is available to borrow or to buy in giant print and braille.
Another popular writer, former Bishop of Durham Rev Tom Wright, has produced a book of 13 short meditations ideal for Lent called The Crown and The Fire. The material encourages the reader to consider words spoken around the cross by key people involved, such as the Roman centurion and Pontius Pilate. This title is also available to borrow or buy in giant print or Braille.
A third book to consider is Love Beyond Degree, by speaker and retreat leader Starla Shattler. This offers 40 devotions tracing God’s plan of redemption, and is available to borrow in DAISY audio, giant print and Braille.
There are more titles in the Torch Library that would be suitable for reading during Lent, listed under Resource Catalogue on this website click here If you prefer, you can phone and discuss your needs with one of the Torch Client Services team on 01858 438260 or you can email Carol Nokes (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Every year, Torch has a free leaflet about the meaning of Easter for you to have for yourself or a friend with sight loss. This year it’s called Better than Chocolate! This is available on request in giant print, Braille, and audio CD.
Posted: 31st January 2013 by Lin Ball
Leading Christian worship songwriter Stuart Townend will be one of the guests on this Sunday’s Reflections radio programme from Torch Trust. Stuart is well-known for co-writing the lyrics and music for a number of well-loved contemporary classics that have become popular around the world, including ‘How Deep the Father’s Love’ and ‘In Christ Alone’. He was interviewed by Reflections producer Rachel Dalby for the programme as he was preparing to lead worship at the annual Keswick Convention.
‘Sunday’s show looks at how God can speak to us powerfully through music and song, having a real impact on the way we live,’ says Rachel.
Stuart says that it’s really meaningful and encouraging to him when people tell him that one of his songs has made a difference in their lives or helped them at a specific point. ‘That’s a wonderful thing to play a part in,’ he says.
Disability campaigner Jonathan Bartley, who plays in a blues band, and blind singer-songwriter Victoria Oruwari also talk about the influence of Christian music during Sunday’s programme. ‘Undoubtedly God can speak through song lyrics,’ says Jonathan, referring to the songs in the Bible called Psalms as well as to contemporary songs in the charts.
Victoria, who is classically trained as a singer, describes feeling compelled to write a new pop song called ‘Forgive and forget’ which she hopes communicates a powerful message about the need for forgiveness.
You can tune in to this programme, presented by Marilyn Baker, on Sunday at 9am on RNIB’s Insight Radio – online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188 and freesat 777. Or you can hear it at 4pm on Premier Christian Radio – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725. If you can’t listen in live, all Reflections programmes can be heard on the Torch website a few days after first broadcast by going to our audio downloads page.
Posted: 24th January 2013 by Lin Ball
Reflections – Torch Trust’s weekly radio programme on faith and disability – now has its own Facebook page. Listeners are able to post comments about the programmes as well as receiving updates on future shows, news about guests and glimpses behind the scenes into the recording studio!
Rachel Dalby, Reflections producer, said that the Facebook page (called simply Reflections from Torch Trust) would not only be a good platform for publicising the programme and growing the audience, but a very immediate way of keeping in touch with our listeners.
‘We enjoy hearing from our listeners, especially those who are blind and partially sighted, about what they think of Reflections – and what they’d like to hear on future programmes – and this is a fantastic way to achieve that,’ said Rachel.
As soon as it was set up, the Reflections page started attracting people, even before an announcement was made.
‘Amazing!’ said Rachel. ‘But that’s the power of social media. Whenever I post an update on the programme it means that everyone who has “liked” us will receive it, and if they choose to “share” it, then all of their friends will also see the update.
‘From February, listeners to the programme will be told about the new Facebook page and invited to join, so we anticipate an avalanche of interest!’
Reflections: On RNIB Insight Radio – online, on FM 101 (Glasgow), on Sky 0188 and freesat 777. Sunday at 9am, with repeats on Tuesdays at 2am and Fridays at 1am. On Premier Christian Radio – online, on MW 1305, 1332, 1413, on DAB and on Freeview 725. Sundays at 4pm.