A Seat at the Table: Suzanne Erb

Friday, March 5th, 2021

March is Disability Awareness Month. Suzanne Erb gives her story and tips on welcoming more people into church.

March is National Disability Awareness Month. Members of the diocesan committee, People for Disabilities, will be sharing their story and advice with you to welcome all people into church. This was written by Suzanne Erb.

The Episcopal Church welcomes you!  We are all familiar with that phrase, and we are glad to adhere to it.  But, one challenge that we face is making sure that everyone feels welcome at God’s table.  As the Diocesan Committee for People with Disabilities, our desire is to make sure that everyone who wants to have a seat at God’s table is made to feel welcome, and is able to share their own unique gifts.

Each week in March, you will meet a different member of the Committee.  Each of us has a different disability, and each of us will offer tips that you can use to make it easier to help people who share their disability feel welcome at God’s table in your parish community.  We will also share a bit of our individual stories and how we serve at God’s table.

I am Suzanne Erb, and I have been an Episcopalian all my life.  I still remember my excitement when I received my copy of a portion of the Book of Common Prayer in Braille when I was eight years old.  I next received a copy of the old 1940 Hymnal in twelve big portfolios.  Each Sunday, my father would take each page I would need for the service and put them in a binder for me so that I could sing the hymns.

Times have changed since the 1960’s!  I am now the organist and music director for both St. James in Essington and St. John the Evangelist in Delaware County and am also a lector.  I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some tips for helping people who are blind or who have low vision to feel welcome at God’s table.

Many people who are blind have lost their vision later in life.  Some of them believe that because they have become blind, or can’t see as well as they did, they don’t feel as though they have anything to contribute, or the Church has nothing to offer them.  Some may have felt so unwelcome that they no longer consider themselves part of the church family. 

Here are some easy steps you can take to make it easier for people who are blind or who have low vision to feel welcome in your parish.

  • Remember to introduce yourself.  Even if you know the person knows who you are, in a crowded or echo filled room, it can be difficult for people to recognize your voice.  Please don’t say “guess who this is?”  Maybe they will know who you are, but it is disrespectful.
  • Make sure you let the person who is blind know when you are entering or leaving a room.  I have often found myself talking to the walls.
  • When guiding a person who is blind, ask them how they would like you to guide them.  Everyone has a preference, and their preferences should be honored.
  • Use normal conversation.  Talk about subjects you’d discuss with anyone else: the sermon, the weather, anything you would discuss with anyone else.
  • If the person who is blind feels uncomfortable attending church, offer to bring God’s table to them.  Both of you will benefit.

Of course, the pandemic has added many difficulties for all of us.  But for people with disabilities, there are some additional challenges.  People who can not see the computer screen or who can not access services on YouTube or Facebook are unable to connect to services.  While some of us who are blind are fairly computer savvy, this is not true for everyone.  And, while it is possible to use Zoom by phone, some folks can not dial all those numbers quickly.  Moreover, the Zoom dial-in  numbers are not free if you use the dial by phone option, unless you have free long distance.

For in person worship, you might also consider making some large print bulletins available for people who might like larger print.  This is something that can be done fairly easily, and it can help lots of people whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be.  Many people who are losing vision do not want to be considered blind; but if you offer a service bulletin that is easier to see, they may be eager to read it.

I am very fortunate that I am able to participate in a very meaningful way by providing music.  Everyone has unique gifts and challenges, and God has a seat for everyone at the table.

Remember that many actions you take to make your services and other parish activities more blind and low vision friendly increase accessibility for everyone.

If you have any questions regarding how you can make your parish family more universally friendly for people with all abilities, please feel free to contact me, Suzanne Erb at suzerb1@comcast.net or 215.313.0550.

And for a big picture, covering all houses of worship please read: