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Good Steward Awards 2013: Technology (Special Needs)

Grace Church (Eden Prairie, MN)

A “Good Steward” Award winner in the area of technology, Grace Church models a standard for accessibility in its outreach to individuals with special needs. For weekly worship, Tech Director Troy Hillstrom uses a Williams Sound assistive listening system consisting of a base station transmitter and personal receivers for listeners. He says it’s a necessity — not only for those with hearing loss, but also for language access/translation in the 4,200-seat worship center.

grace-church_troy“In a large space, clarity is a huge issue,” Hillstrom explains. “We make a conscious effort to provide the message to all listeners.”

For language translation in the youth ministry, Hillstrom uses portable body pack transmitters and headset and lapel microphones. In the Hispanic youth ministry, personal receivers are used. Even overseas missionaries benefit from assistive listening technology; they use it for language translation.

“[Hillstrom] mentioned that when they hand out the receivers in the worship center, people are usually shocked to have something available to help them. They’re happy, and they come back,” adds Janet Beckman, vice president of marketing for Williams Sound. “One gentleman keeps his receiver because he uses it every week. When [Hillstrom] glances over to see him using it, he’s smiling and he’s engaged. That’s the payoff.”

Here, Beckman tells us more about what makes this church so inclusive.

When you call Grace Church “progressive,” what makes you use that word in particular?

Grace Church is forward-thinking in how it reaches out to impact the world for Christ. Through a wide range of ministries, it’s leading the way when it comes to not just being a big building where people come together. As [Hillstrom] stated, “The church is supposed to meet people’s needs.”

The assistive listening system is a big part of their progressiveness. They get it. They know that if people who come to their church can’t understand what’s being said, what’s the point? [Hillstrom] stated that while the system is required by law, it’s more than that — it’s really a necessity.

What type of assistive listening system is available in the main sanctuary?

The Personal PA™377 FM Assistive Listening System. It consists of one base station transmitter (PPA T35) and Personal PA Select (PPA R37) receivers for listeners. The system was installed in August 2002.

What was the impetus for its installation?

grace-church_interiorIn various listening situations, background noise, reverberation and distance from the sound source can make hearing the intended program or individual difficult — not only for an individual with a hearing loss, but for the general population. Often, a hearing aid or an implant isn’t enough for these settings. Assistive listening systems allow the individual listener to sit anywhere in the coverage area using a FM receiver to hear crystal-clear sound directly from the sound source.

As Hillstrom has noted: “In a large space, clarity is a huge issue. It’s hard to achieve clarity of sound at the same level for everyone. If it’s too loud, people tune out. If it’s too soft, people can’t hear. Grace Church makes a conscious effort to provide the message to listeners so it doesn’t get lost. “

What kinds of tools is the church using for language translation in the youth ministry?

The church uses the Williams Sound FM portable body pack transmitters, (PPA T36), headset and lapel microphones, and the Personal PA Select receivers (PPA R37) for the individuals listening to interpretation in their Hispanic youth ministry.

How does the church market the availability of these tools?

Signage is placed in the worship center, which seats 4,200, and in the chapel, which seats 400. The church will also be using a pre-service slide announcing availability of the assistive listening receivers to its congregation for future services.

Are there other ways — aside from the ALS in the main sanctuary and language interpretation for the youth ministry — in which Grace Church accommodates individual with special needs?

Grace Church reaches people with special needs in many ways. In particular, its Mission program uses a Williams Sound Personal PA FM portable body pack transmitter (PPA T36) and Personal PA Select Receivers (PPA R37) on missions trips to assist in language translation in their overseas missions.

The church also provides Spanish interpretation in its large worship center as a part of the weekly worship service offerings.

Additionally, Grace Church reaches individuals with special needs through other programs such as the Barnabas program, which helps families with children with special needs. They also have a community dinner on Thursday evenings to serve those in need in the suburban area.

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