Editor’s note: This post was originally published on the ELCA Disability Ministries blog.

At the 2024 ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, held Jan. 18-21 in New Orleans, several firsts occurred related to Disability Ministries (DM). The DM advisory team, represented by coordinator Lisa Heffernan, Anita Smallin, Brian Krause and myself, provided three 75-minute workshops, offered a revised Thanksgiving for Baptism service, and participated in a panel discussion with Jonathan Vehar, director for evangelical mission for the South Dakota synod and director of the tAble, on the main stage. The DM advisory team also staffed a table in the exhibit area, where we were able to make personal contacts and provide business cards with our contact information in Braille and large print.

The revised Thanksgiving for Baptism service may have been the first time that Braille was used at a national event of the ELCA or its affiliates. It was definitely the first time that an eReader, a refreshable Braille display, was used for the reading. The Extravaganza may also have been the first time all worship services and other program details presented on-screen were made fully accessible by providing documents for reading through the eReader. (Many thanks to the organizers and Sarah Sumner-Eisenbraun for making this possible.)

The importance of this work may make the difference for many Braille users who wish to be leaders in the church. Braille can now be made available by simply providing a thumb drive, SD card or direct download with the program files in word, plain text or RTF formats. This means that the high cost of Braille production no longer needs to be a barrier for many blind people—although the issue of large print continues to be a challenge.

One attendee stated that our workshop was one of the most practical workshops she attended. “My baptism has always been important to me,” said another, responding to the presentation of the revised Thanksgiving for Baptism Service. “This service put faces on those who have gone before and really make a difference for me. It has made my baptism more important than ever.”

The DM advisory team is grateful to the Youth Extravaganza planning group for their support of our continued ministry.

Peter Heide
Peter Heide is an ordained minister of the ELCA and a member of the ELCA Disability Ministries advisory team.

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