WELS Hymnal Project

Designing for Accessibility

Our Lord Jesus had the utmost compassion on those with sensory impairments. He had the power to heal them and often did just that. We, on the other hand, are not granted such power. Nevertheless, following the example of Jesus, Christians are the kind of people who care for the physical needs of those often overlooked — including the needs of those with various sensory impairments.

The Technology Committee has been overseeing the overall design of the hymnal and its related digital products. We are working to ensure that the visual look and layout of our work is as consistent as possible across the various media that the new hymnal project will use — from print to screen. We are also working with the needs of the visually impaired in mind.

The previous approach to assisting those with visual impairment was to produce a so-called “Large Print Edition” of the hymnal. This text-based edition comes as a set of loose-leaf papers punched for use in a three-ring binder. Congregations can prepare a binder of materials each week for those who needed them. This is an effective approach for increasing the text size of the hymns for those who will benefit from the larger type.
But today there are new approaches available to us. The Technology Committee has consulted with the WELS Commission on Special Ministries and the consensus has been that today’s ebooks offer the best all-around system for our brothers and sisters with visual impairment. The Technology Committee has since built prototypes of hymnal ebooks to test their viability on a variety of platforms. We like what we have learned.

The flexibility offered to the visually impaired is welcomed. A text-based hymnal using ebook technology will allow users to increase the text size of the book to their specific liking. Those that need only a little boost in text size could bump the size up a notch or two, while those who benefit from a dramatic increase in size are free to change their settings appropriately. Since a large-print hymnal does not — by design — try to exactly replicate the layout and musical engraving of the standard pew edition, the text reflows automatically to fill the screen in a visually useful way.

Electronic books also take advantage of the high-resolution screens on today’s Kindles and iPads. Text can look as crisp on the small screen as it does in print. Text layout algorithms on the most common ebook platforms have improved to the point that they handle even very large text quite well.

Furthermore, specific platforms like Apple’s iOS have incredibly powerful accessibility features that allow even those who are completely blind to navigate the iBooks interface and have the text read aloud to them. While this approach may not always be suitable in a standard worship setting, a well-built hymnal ebook will be fully accessible for personal use by someone with total loss of vision.

Unfortunately, there is no single, ideal solution to creating a hymnal for the visually impaired, but thankfully the tools at our disposal today go quite far in serving the needs of as many people as possible. We know that one day our glorified bodies will be free from every malady and shortcoming, but for now, we can live in the light of that hope by offering our visually impaired brothers and sisters a hymnal designed for accessibility.

About Caleb Bassett

Rev. Caleb Bassett is the Technology Committee Chairman for the WELS Hymnal Project. Bassett serves at Redeemer in Fallbrook, CA. Bassett has presented at the WELS National Worship Conference and served as an essayist for the Institute for Worship and Outreach. Bassett and his wife, Audra, live with their four children in the avocado country of Southern California.


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