PROVO, Utah — After watching the Church’s video “The Christ Child” with audio description, a blind Latter-day Saint wrote: “For as long as I can remember, I have known that Jesus loves me and values me. But today I felt like the Church and its leaders value me as well.”
Because “The Christ Child” was made in Aramaic, it was difficult for blind viewers to understand what was happening. Some reported feeling “left out,” “unimportant” and “unseen” while listening. With the added audio description, they can now listen to a verbal depiction of visual elements on screen — and feel included.
Adding audio description to videos is one of many things the Church is doing to help members with disabilities, said Katie Steed, disability specialist manager in the Church’s Priesthood and Family Department.
“This is what happens when we do this at Church headquarters,” she said of the positive response. “And this is what happens when you take the time to do this in your own wards and stakes, to reach out, to notice, and to say, ‘What can be done to make this more accessible for you?’”
Steed spoke at BYU Education Week on Aug. 15, titling her presentation “Supporting and Teaching Members with Disabilities: What the Church is Doing to Help.” She highlighted resources available on disability.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Though many improvements have been made in recent years to help members with disabilities access gospel resources, Steed acknowledged there is still much work to be done. She quoted a phrase from Isaiah 54:13 — “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord” — emphasizing the word “all.”
According to the World Health Organization, about 15% of the world population has a disability, including vision, hearing and intellectual disabilities and physical limitations. In the United States, according to census data, 19.6% — or one in five people — have a disability, Steed said.
As a mother of a son with autism, Steed knows the importance of audience listening — seeking and implementing feedback about Church resources from members with disabilities.
For example, while meeting with members who are deaf or hard of hearing, her team learned that the term “hearing impaired” is offensive to many in that community. The Church has updated its General Handbook to use “hard of hearing” in place of “hearing impaired.”
During a Face to Face event for youth in March, a young man offered the closing prayer in ASL. “He was the first person in a Church broadcast to give a prayer in ASL,” Steed said. A deaf Latter-day Saint was featured in a #HearHim video published by the Church in July 2021. Such efforts are helping to provide increased awareness and understanding of members with disabilities.
The scriptures and other Church materials are available in a variety of accessible formats:
- American Sign Language (asl.ChurchofJesusChrist.org)
- Audio (audio.ChurchofJesusChrist.org)
- Audio Description
- Closed Captions
- DAISY format (DAISY.ChurchofJesusChrist.org)
- Materials on Talking Book cartridges
- Victor Reader Stream
- Web braille (braille.ChurchofJesusChrist.org)
The Church recently started an online American Sign Language seminary class and is piloting a For the Strength of Youth conference for deaf youth, Steed said.
She pointed out that the Gospel Library app has settings to help with readability, including changing the text size and background color to help those with dyslexia and other visual needs.
To help individuals with food allergies, the Church worked with the Utah Food Allergy Network to create a poster with guidelines on avoiding cross-contact with the sacrament that should be hung in every sacrament preparation room.
Mothers of children who are nonverbal have expressed a need for gospel language symbols and icons. “We are making a nonverbal icon dictionary specifically for Latter-day Saint vocabulary,” Steed said. Images are currently being tested and will soon be available for download on the Church’s website.
In closing, Steed emphasized the importance of inclusivity.
“Our Savior, the perfect teacher of all, gave a great example of this. He left the ninety and nine to seek after the one,” she said, referencing Matthew 18:12. Sometimes the “one” may be someone who can’t access things the way others can. “What can that look like within the sphere of influence and stewardship that we have?” she asked.