My Journey: The Accessible NIrV Edition
Posted by Sarah Farling, 17 July 2017
Is it really 3 years since Becky Miles approached me to ask a simple question, “Why do we need a Bible that is more accessible?” My journey leading up to that question had been both challenging and rewarding.
Over 15 years ago Prospects was running a ‘stream’ at Spring Harvest for adults with learning disabilities. There was a visit one day from Joni Erickson– Tada who is paraplegic. Joni was impressed and moved by what she witnessed and asked how she could help. Prospects Director Tony Phelps–Jones explained that another pair of hands would make a lot of difference. ‘If you can raise 50% of a year’s salary in 2 weeks, you can have the other half!’ Amazingly, more than 50% arrived within 10 days!
So, the job was advertised and Tony asked a friend of mine who was being made redundant whether, as a volunteer worship leader with Prospects and involved in a local church group, he would like to apply. His answer was simply “No thank you, it’s not for me. I know of a man who could do it but he’s not available and he won’t want it!” And so began a journey into the job I never wanted. I put up many obstacles but thankfully God made a way. The rest of that story is for another day but what was the reasoning behind such vehement opposition? I know now that it was based on fear, ignorance and prejudice. I was fearful of being unable to communicate with people who perhaps can`t speak, can’t read, and may behave strangely, or seemingly so. Fear, ignorance and prejudice were difficult challenges to overcome but well worth the effort.
I have learned over the years that communication takes many forms, not just the written or spoken word but pictures, signing, a look or a touch. How much richer our world becomes as we learn to interact with people who don’t communicate the way we do! The use of drama involving as many people as possible, engaging our senses through sight and smell, touch and colour all make such a difference for us all. The aim is not to dumb down but to simplify so that together, young and old, able and disabled, we can engage with the word of God and the One who gave it to us.
When I met Becky in May 2014 my focus was on making the Bible more accessible for adults with learning disabilities, of whom there are approximately 1.5 million in the UK alone, but I realised that the potential audience was far greater than this. I suggested to Becky that it would be good to approach Gordon Temple, CEO for Torch Trust, and Mark Arnold, then Chief Operating Officer for Urban Saints but also responsible for young people with additional needs. It was fascinating to explore the similarities but also the differences between these three specific groups, people with sight loss, young people and those with learning disabilities.
As we began to look at the Bible we considered how we might make it more accessible as much for those with reams of qualifications as those with none at all. Wouldn’t it be great to have a Bible that helped us all to understand more? So, we started to look at illustrations, type and size of font, layout, how the page lies and where the verse numbers sit. It really has been an adventure and on several occasions, it would have been so easy to give up. However, we persevered and finally a pilot edition of Matthew’s Gospel was published in November 2016. I was sorry to not be present for the launch but when I received my copy in the post, I must admit to shedding a tear. We were on our way! We invited feedback and we got it – many encouraging comments, others helping us to refine the edition that would end up in people’s hands. The printed edition will never meet everyone’s needs but as far as is possible, I hope you agree, it goes a long way to doing so and has been worth the effort. It will probably go on being refined – please pray that money will be found to produce the Old as well as the New Testament.
We are beginning to hear stories from across the UK of the difference this edition is already making:
“A friend, Lynn McCann is part of a team that runs the Good News Group at St Andrew’s Church, Leyland. They regularly have about 35–40 members with learning disabilities and 10–15 carers who meet on Wednesday evenings because many can’t get there on a Sunday morning. Matthew’s Gospel has been welcomed by all and their readers love it as they like the shorter sentences, chunked text and accessibility. They can’t wait for the full NT version. They have been able to supplement the Matthew’s NIrV Accessible Edition with Widget symbols so that non–readers can follow the story too. Now they are all reading the Bible together. They have given a copy of Matthew’s Gospel to their reading members or to those who would have someone to read it to them to take home so they have access to the Bible at all times.”
I’ll leave another friend to speak for herself:
“The sample of Matthew I have gone through and it was easier to read and understand and really can’t wait for the book of the New Testament to come out. Since I have finished that sample book of Matthew I have passed it on to other person to see if they find it better than other Bibles. Then if it does I will get them a copy of the New Testament book. But also going to still show the books around in my area. Thank you for introducing me to the example of Matthew.”
God is good!
My passion has always been to see a church that is accessible to all, a church where, if you can read or not, the simple news can be understood that Jesus loves us, has died for us and is alive forever. I believe in a church where simply and appropriately adults with learning disabilities, in fact everyone, can know Jesus for themselves and say yes to him in their own way. A tool that was so needed was a Bible, not for the disabled, but a Bible for all, an accessible edition. Thank you Biblica, everyone has the right to have access to the word of God. Biblica – thank you!
Count Everyone In
With a background in aeronautical engineering and telecommunications, latterly with BT’s community programme, Pete went on to work with Prospects (now part of the Livability Group) for 15 years. For Pete, and his wife Christine, the time has now come to go freelance, by founding Count Everyone In, so that they can focus on this specific area of Christian work through preaching, training and leading teams of volunteers at Christian festivals around the UK, offering simple (but not childish) programmes based on the theme of the event. With a wealth of experience across the denominations and church groups, Pete has worked with people of all ages and abilities inspiring Christians to express their faith and utilise their God–given gifts.
The NIrV Accessible Edition New Testament is now available for purchase via the Biblica Europe website and will also soon be available through various trade outlets.