AAW 012 JW Final.plain_doc
January 19, 2022
Transcription is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
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Welcome to AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities of accessibility for people with disabilities. I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And I’m Albert Rizzi, and this is the AccessAbility Works podcast.
Today, we’re talking to Robert Hendriks, spokesman for Jehovah’s Witness, and Janet–
Parmerter. It’s a hard name, like Lieutenant Parmernter from F Troop. That’s how I remember her name. And Janet is their outreach coordinator and also runs their conventions with her husband Keith.
She also happens to be a JW religion teacher.
Yup, she’s a JW.org religion teacher. Both Janet and Keith are always at, nearly, I’m going to say because I don’t want to be speaking absolutes, every conference and/or convention I have been to that is related to empowering people with disabilities and/or related to digital equity and accessibility of authentic inclusion. I was introduced them by friend, colleague, and one of our champions, Mike Paciello. And they do great, great work.
But before we get on to our interview, we want to wish everybody a happy, healthy, emphasis on healthy, and prosperous 2022. We are in our new year. And Jon and I are in our new office, coming to you live from Bellport on the second floor of our rebuilt home.
In our nice office with our nice desks and everything.
Jon’s homemade desktop, because every penny was spent on building this monstrosity. So we are well-aware that COVID is still amongst us. And we have variations on themes left and right.
With your time in the North being the time that “buh-zee-ziz” spread like–
“Buh-zee-ziz.” “Buh-zee-ziz” spread. So please continue to wash your hands, mask up. We just dealt with our family, Jon’s family, and everyone. And it was interesting. What was confusing to me is how your mom got it, your brother got it, but your dad and–
People living in the same house with them didn’t get it. Very contagious, though. Extremely contagious.
Yeah, this strain, I call it the Omegatron. It sounds like a Transformer. I think it’s more fun to call it Omegatron.
It’s Omicron. Omicron Persei 8, if there are any Futurama fans out there.
Yeah, there were a few of them, I’m sure. It was disconcerting. It really impacted our holiday gatherings. But we’re happy to say, everybody has come out the other end. And we really, really want to emphasize again doing the research on vaccinations.
There is a lot of confusing information flowing about. But do your personal research. Come to terms personally with what you need to do and the choices that are before you. And just please, stay healthy. Do whatever it takes. It’s not fun.
And latest breaking news– science.
Yes, I have heard news in Neuralink, Elon Musk talking about they’re moving forward with trial testing on quadriplegic people to help them link to computers with their brain, which is a wild concept. So I’ve been keeping an eye on that. And I heard that, so I figured news.
News, well, let’s keep researching that and staying on top of it. And maybe one day we can ask Elon to come over to AccessAbility Works and discuss it.
And please remember to tell all your friends and family about AccessAbility Works podcast. Search us up on all the social medias– Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. You can also find the podcast on myblindspot.org, or reach out to us directly at email@example.com.
And please go to the website myblindspot.org, and read our latest blog on 2022, “The Year of People with Disabilities,” our take on why this year is going to be a silver lining year for opportunities and empowerment of people with disabilities.
They’ll definitely be better than the last year.
That’s for sure.
And while you’re listening to this podcast, you might hear variations on intonation and quality of sound because we were coming to you live from a trailer on our front lawn. And we are now in our new office and our new home. And as is usual, our interviewees are in different locations throughout the country.
Is this the first time we had two different people in two different parts of the country that we’re one party in one place? We had four new people in four different locations.
We are a remote access organization. We come to you live from many parts of the world.
Harnessing technology for good instead of evil.
And one of the serious topics we touched on during our interview with Janet and Robert was suicide and suicide prevention. Suicide is a very serious topic. And it’s something that we all need to talk about. It’s one thing knowing that somebody is depressed. It’s another thing to ask them, are you thinking about suicide? Or are you feeling like you have suicidal tendencies? So it’s important for us to be our brother’s keepers and our sister’s keepers, and reach out, and offer them support.
And for those of us who are concerned about people in our family, in our networks, who might be depressed and suffering–
Please reach out to a neighbor or a friend. Or if you don’t have anyone particularly, there is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number is 1-800-273-8255.
And I might even suggest if you call in or put on hold, which is not a joke sometimes, you can call me, 917-553-0347.
And now, it’s time to welcome our guests, Robert Hendriks and Janet Parmerter.
For those of you who don’t know, one of the impressive things about JW.org is its wealth of information as it relates to the word of God and/or biblical teachings. It really trumps, for lack of a better term, all other organizations, whether it’s Catholicism, Christianity, Judaism.
They have much more than–
They have much more than religious texts, too. They have other stuff.
Oh, no. They have tons of things. But the fact of the matter is that one of the things I have come to appreciate is that people of faith or any faith or religious organizations that you follow tend to profess authentic inclusion of all God’s children, yet–
–practice not. And Jehovah’s Witness, as an organization and as a community of people, delivering inclusion and ensuring inclusion, really do it right. So I’m looking forward to sharing the word as it relates to what they do and how they do it. And if they knock at your door, it’s OK to answer.
Robert, Janet, thank you for joining us today.
Thanks for having us. This is a real privilege.
We’re really happy to be here.
Oh, my goodness. Janet, I keep thinking about how we met good old Mike Paciello, getting connected with people.
I don’t know if I ever told Jonathan. I don’t know if Robert– Robert probably does not know. But I was introduced– well, why don’t you tell that story? I love the way you wrote it.
Well, actually, it was Mike Paciello that got us the table at ATIA. Because we met him in January 2015, your friend. When he heard that Jehovah’s Witnesses started to get a table at these conventions for physically challenged people and the blind community, he was very impressed, and asked me right away on that very first phone call, are we going to ATIA? And I said, no, but it was something that he felt we should be there.
And immediately, on that very call, he called David Dikter And before we hung up, he said, you have a table at that conference. And Mike did that for us. At very first conference is when I met you.
Yeah, David Dikter is a fantastic man. He’s the CIO of ATIA. Good friend, good colleague. And ATIA is the Assistive Technology Industry Association. I always get that. It’s a educational-based conference on technology in the 21st century for people of ability.
And you showed up at the table and started saying how happy you were that we were there. And as a Bible teacher, I was happy to hear that because you said, you know, I wrote the Holy Father. And I said, you don’t have anything accessible for us. And I have to go to Jehovah’s Witnesses to read the Bible. And you make me laugh so much.
Oh, my God. And it was so true. We had just written– I had written to the Holy Father at the Vatican City. And I’m one degree of separation from the Bishop for the Greek Orthodox Church and had written to him. And nobody wrote back. But since then, I think, there’s been a mild improvements here and there. But again, the ability to have access to all things is what we’re about at My Blind Spot and what I’ve come to champion, what I call, My Calling. And I was so blown away to know that there was avenues for faith-based information accessible to people who are blind or have print disabilities in general. And your platform is flawless.
It was a joy for me to be able to be at that table as a teacher of God’s word because we had so much there on the table that was accessible, like you said, in audio, in large print. It was something that touched my heart because if your audience doesn’t know, I’m also blind.
You see now, you got to stop right there, Janet. It wasn’t until I read your notes over the past couple of days, I had no clue, or I don’t think I ever acknowledged that you were blind. And I never knew you were using keys to zero in. And when my blind [? ass ?] was walking down, it was so– I said to Jon, last night, I said, I really don’t think I knew that Janet was blind.
I don’t know. It just never occurred to me to ask, or think, or assume anything like that. Because you’re Janet. You’re not the blind lady from the Jehovah’s Witness table. You know what I’m saying? So I don’t think I have to look past that with you specifically. I’m sorry for missing that. Because yeah, I didn’t see it.
It was funny. Because Keith always looked out for you.
And that first day that I met you, what you said touched my heart. Because I said, this man loves God. And he’s sincere in wanting to have accessible content. And that was so impressive to me, Albert. It just–
You stuck around like gum on my shoe. And that’s not an insult. My very first convention that was focused on people with disabilities and inclusion was Sea Sun in 2011, I think. When we met, I just– all of a sudden, you started popping up everywhere. I’m like, oh, she’s at the AFP conference, the ACB, the NFB, all these different Bs, and then the Sea Suns. And it just seemed like we’re ever Mike was you were there. And it was refreshing, instead of having to be bombarded by, do you want to buy our services? Do you want to buy our computers? Do you want to buy this Braille display?
And all of a sudden, it was like, hey, do you want to just talk about God? I’m like, whoa, where’d that come from? And Robert, how long have you been heading up Jehovah’s Witnesses, if that’s the right way to say that?
Well, certainly not heading up anything, but I’ve actually been a Jehovah’s Witness since I was 15. I was baptized then. But I grew up in a family of witnesses. And only in the last several years have I been representing the branch here at headquarters as the United States spokesperson.
We were talking before. Both Janet and Robert are Long Islanders. So we were tripping down memory lane about a few different things. Actually, Janet, did you grow up on Long Island? Or were you–
Well, I’m from New Jersey.
We were Palisades Amusement Park. That’s what we were talking about.
Yeah, that’s how it goes, yep.
That’s close enough.
That’s where I grew up, in that town.
Well, I think most people who think about New Jersey, you know, when we talk about New York, we think about New Jersey and Connecticut by default over here. But yeah, it was interesting to see how we’ve got so much in common aside from that.
Maybe I shared it with you Janet. But Robert, I know I haven’t shared it with you. And I know I haven’t shared it with listeners. But it’s interesting that I happened upon Janet, and Keith, and the table. And having friends that were Jehovah Witnesses over the years, and having met many people as they were working in the ministry, when I was battling for my life after I found out that I had meningitis, I was in a place having a conversation with my higher power. And I was strapped to a chair, which is what I was in the hospital.
And oddly enough, as I reflect back on some of these visions and these conversations, I’ve noticed that in moments where I’m recalling things, I was pinned into a corner of the room with computers. And I find that interesting now as I reflect back on what I was being told. And I realized that’s the only way I communicate now, through technology. And as I was sitting there trying to figure out how I’m going to get around all these computers and get out onto the grass, which was through a beautiful French pane window, Madonna, Like a Virgin, comes down, not the Virgin Madonna.
And there was Madonna, sitting there, talking to me and telling me things about faith, which I thought, no way. And I don’t believe in iconography. I’m not the kind of person. I believe, if I am going to talk to my higher power, I just go direct. I don’t talk through any statuary, any saints, any clergy. It just doesn’t work for me. And as I’m looking at her, I look out the window and a beautiful scene turned into what I likened to a Baptist revival barbecue meeting.
Everyone was in Victorian dress, big hats, men and women. And the Brooklyn Bridge was in the background. And the river was there. And then I look up. And I see the Watchtower. Any New Yorker who’s been living in New York since the dawn of time knows about the Watchtower and the offices you have in Brooklyn. And it was always one of those things that I just tucked away, Janet, until I met you and Keith again.
And I was like, huh, what’s the message?
So we were your dream come true?
Yeah, basically. Look at you being my dream come true.
No, it was like, when you told me about that dream that you had, as soon as you said Brooklyn Bridge, I thought, I know–
You knew where I was going.
–this dream. Yes.
Yeah, no, it was just interesting. And then, like I said, one of the things I want listeners to know is that JW.org is a very accessible, very usable, very functional website for people with disabilities, specifically those of us with blindness or print disabilities.
Robert, if you could just for our listeners define what it is to be a Jehovah’s Witness a little bit in your words.
I guess the best way to define a Jehovah’s Witness is to say that we’re followers of Christ. We’re Christians. And what that means to us is to do what He tells us to do. One of those things that He told us to do is to preach, to try to the best of our ability to practice Christianity, to follow in His footsteps.
We don’t do it perfectly. But we continue to practice that. And every day, we hope that we get closer and closer to His model. And as such, we make sure that we’re representing Him in the best way that we can. And because the main tenet of everything that He did was love, that was why He gave his life for us. That’s why He lived for us. We try to not only love each other as Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also show love to our neighbors.
May I add to that, Robert?
No. Go ahead.
No, Robert said, to the best of our ability. Well, of course, the model is Jesus Christ. But if you think of a classroom, not everybody’s an A student. Some people get B, and C, and D. Actually, some people even fail. But they have to study harder to bring that failing grade up. And some people, for a C, they have to study harder.
So we’re all studying. We’re all trying to reach that model example, which is Christ. Of course, we won’t be perfect. So we’re just all at different levels of studying Christianity and trying to strive to be good Christians.
I’m sorry. I’m going to be really silly right now. I’m going to go with it. I’m going with a knee jerk reaction. I remember reading some things about, silly things or stupid things, that blind people are asked all the time. So I’m curious. Do Jehovah Witnesses drink?
OK, no, some people don’t.
I think first of all, it’s important to know this. I know that this is something that’s a finer point. But it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, because it’s an apostrophe S. Jehovah being the supreme being and Him owning us. He has ownership over us as our God. And so Jehovah’s Witnesses, we may or may not drink. It’s a personal decision.
And some choose to. Many choose not to. But clearly, Jesus drank. So if Jesus– good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough us.
Good enough for me.
Do you remember–
That’s a wonderful philosophy.
–his first miracle was– Jesus’s first miracle was turning water into wine.
But the whole thing is, like, I really like Robert’s statement right there. If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.
Gotta start using that more.
I’m going to make a bumper sticker for that. So heaven and hell, what are the concepts of heaven and hell?
Well, of course, we believe in heaven. Jesus said in his model prayer for us to pray to God in heaven. So our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. So we believe that that’s where Jehovah, Jesus, the Angels reside. Heaven is a place. And heaven is also a place where some humans will go who have died and have been risen to heavenly life.
For hell, we believe that hell actually translates in the original Bible to the same word as the grave. And so in our Bibles, we translate it as the grave. Because we believe and the Bible teaches in Ecclesiastes chapter nine, and Ezekiel 18, and many other scriptures, including the beautiful miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead. It proves this point that when you die, you die. Death is the opposite of life. There is no torture. There is no thought. There is no haunting. That person is dead.
Now, the beauty of it is that then they can be raised up. And that gives the power to that word that so many bandy around, but don’t understand resurrection. Resurrection means to be raised back to life. And so we believe that billions will be raised back to life here on the Earth and have a chance for everlasting life in a paradise.
It would be it would be foolhardy to think that everything that we believe is in the Bible. That’s just not the case. We believe in dinosaurs. They’re not in the Bible. So there’s plenty of things we believe. The Bible isn’t a complete compendium of human history or universal history. It’s enough information for us to get an understanding of what God’s purpose is and what He wants out of us.
In fact, John wrote right at the end of his gospel, if I were to write all the things about Jesus, all the libraries on Earth couldn’t fit it. And so we recognize that the Bible is not a complete book of history. But it has accurate history, accurate science when it does mention it.
Robert, I love you for that, I really do. Because too many people swear the word of God is exactly as it is in the Bible that was printed last week. And man has had his hand, or her hand, in distorting some of the words. And it’s a historical perspective. I agree with you on that. It gives some really good lessons for life.
But again, I consider it like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I take what I need. And I leave the rest. And then I have another question if I may. Holidays, you have one holiday on your calendar, which is–
No, well kind of, sort of. I think–
I love that kind of sort of. Well, when you go back to history, Jesus only put one Holy day on the calendar. He erased a lot of Holy days.
That’s why we don’t celebrate the Passover. He celebrated the final official Passover. And He replaced it with the memorial of his death, the Lord’s Supper, if you will. The Lord’s evening meal we call it. And we celebrate it not on a Friday. We celebrate it on the very day that it actually happened.
So we know from Bible history that Jesus died on the first full moon after the spring equinox, as seen in Jerusalem. And so that’s the way we calculate the date each year. And many times, it does lead us to celebrating on the same day as the Jewish Passover. Interestingly, back in the fourth century, that’s exactly why Easter became the preeminent Christendom holiday.
Because at the same time in Rome, there was the celebration of Good Friday and the celebration of the Passover, the celebration of the Memorial, His death, on the same day. And Christians felt there was at the time, Christendom felt, there was a little bit of a rivalry. And so they made their more Holy day to be his Resurrection, which ended up being on a Sunday.
And so that has been the tradition in the church. But we go back to the command of Jesus that Passover was celebrated on the 14th day of Nisan every year. And that’s exactly when we celebrate Jesus’s death.
Well, I could keep on asking you questions about this. But I think it’s definitely going to require some wine and bread for us to break next time.
This sounds good.
How has the pandemic impacted the way you provide your ministries? Always hearing the knock on the door on the weekend. I’m wondering how the social distancing thing impacted everything that the Jehovah’s do to minister the word of God?
I guess in a sentence, it has changed us forever and made us better. March 2020 is when we stop knocking on doors. And that was– it’s March 20, 2020. It’s been about 16, 17 months now since we have not knocked on folks’ doors. But we have really developed other ways to get to people, to comfort them, to access them, to make our work accessible to them.
At the end of the day, what Jehovah’s Witnesses care most about is that everyone has a chance to read God’s word. It reminds me that Christians for centuries, loyal people, have risked their lives and given their lives so that the Bible could be translated into the common languages of the day.
Some of you might know the person, William Tyndale. He was one of those people. And you might know this, that early in Bible translation days, to get a vernacular translation was to risk your life. In fact, Tyndall was martyred for his efforts to put the Bible into the common language. And it was the church that really was the main adversary of that.
Because they felt that the common person shouldn’t read the Bible. It should be interpreted to them through a priest. But Tyndall said, if God spare my life, there are many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plow shall know more of the scripture than thou dost. And really we have followed that mandate to a degree that nobody could have imagined.
Well, it’s interesting that you talk about that too. Again, we all are supposed to aspire to our higher power, and pleasing a higher power, and doing everything within our means. But we can’t read about the word of God, which is odd. And the fact that they weren’t– I think it was the English church that started to really go full hog on converting the Latin Bibles and the Hebrew Bibles into the vernacular at the time, the vulgar.
And my very first guide dog, which I think Janet, you met Doxy.
His name was Doxology. And a doxology by definition– I looked this up. I’m like, what is a doxology? It was basically a hymn that was written in the 1690s by Thomas Ken, Anglican Bishop. And it was the first time a morning doxology, the hymn, the afternoon, and midnight, were written in English. It was just so interesting to have that definition the doxology is prays to God or a beginning.
Sometimes depending on the sect of Christianity, they would start the service with a doxology or end it. And I’ll never forget. I went to a Baptist church. Pastor Pete, used to live next door to me in New York City. I never knew he was a pastor. And all of a sudden one day, he comes out and says, hey. I’m like, really? Sure, let’s go.
So I went to service with him. And he, without even knowing I believe, because just his name was Doxy. I didn’t get into the explanation of his name. And he did the doxology. And at that moment, Doxy got up on my shoulders both paws, barked twice, and licked me twice. And the pastor goes, yep, even the dog knows when to say Amen.
But it’s interesting how I’ve had this spiritual guide and presence around me that I don’t know that most people stop and acknowledge. They just, you know, I don’t know. But it’s interesting when I hear you talk about the translation of the Bible into English. And now here you are translating it into digital information and documentation that everybody can access with the right tools.
Well, it’s about accessibility. When you really come down to it, Jesus didn’t read from the Hebrew Bible. He read from the Greek Septuagint. The apostles, they quoted the Greek Septuagint. That’s what they used. They used a translation of the Hebrew scriptures. And it makes sense. Because why have a book that you can’t read?
And so extend that now to those who are challenged, whether that’s hearing challenged, reading challenged, whether it’s sight challenged, whether it is challenged in a way that they need something that they can understand better. We believe that the Bible in itself is already a complex book. Why make it more complicated by complicating the English that you use and keeping it obscure from people?
Yeah. Complex is an understatement, Robert. I could see John grumbling. John–
No, actually I’m just agreeing with everything that he’s saying, to be honest.
I know. And it’s one thing–
I’m all about free information for everyone.
Yeah. And that’s the thing that I also like too, Robert, that you touched on before. And I’m going to twist it in a way that it works with my mission and vision at my blind spot, is you’re providing choices. You’re giving people a choice to read up on and inquire into the Bible. You talked about it was written in Greek and the Hebrews.
And most people don’t, I think, my opinion, my belief, that we don’t stop to appreciate all of the old testaments. And we wind up trying to get– a race to the finish line. Whose religion is better? Who’s going to get God’s favor faster? But I don’t think we can ever be a full spiritual vessel without appreciating the roots of faith, which I go back to the Hebrews and the different variations and the different transitions we take as we listen to Jesus’s teachings and other prophets that come along.
I mean, Jesus was the greatest prophet of the great prophets. He Himself quoted hundreds of times the Hebrew scriptures. And it’s so sad that many have left them behind, the 39 books of the Hebrew scriptures that really explain who Christ was supposed to be and who Christ is. And it’s the gospel that give us his three and an half years. But it’s the Hebrew scriptures that give us the basis for why He came and how He came to us.
And so having those accessible to us in all languages, I mean, when you look at our website, JW.org, in 1,034 languages, try to fathom that. Try to tell me 100 languages. Among us four we probably couldn’t come up with 100 languages.
I was going to say, let alone 1,000.
We’re in 105 sign languages, 105. More than 60 languages for others who are challenged in other ways. I mean, audio descriptions, obscure languages. We have translated the Bible into languages where only 4,500 people speak that language. And the whole key to that is it’s not about profit. Because we give it away. JW.orgQ is free. It’s about accessibility.
We are the most accessible organization ever known to man, the most accessible website ever known to man, the most accessible Bible publications ever known to man. And that’s exactly where we should be in a time of technology, where we have the most tools open to us to provide these things ever known to man.
And that just blows my mind. Again, it gives people avenues to investigate the information they need and The Word as they care to interpret and incorporate into their life. And one of the things that I’ve always appreciated about Jehovah Witnesses and many of my friends from the Witness community is that they’ll say, we’ll talk about it. But there isn’t this hard sell. There isn’t this shame involved. That’s been my personal experience anyway. Shame involved with, oh, you’re a Jehovah. You’re not a Christian. Oh, you’re a Jehovah. You’re not a Jew. Oh, you were Jehovah. You’re not a Muslim.
And it’s just interesting to see how just listening to you now about embracing the diversity that Jesus spoke about, all God’s children, and how everyone should have a place at the table.
No doubt about it.
A lot of religions don’t do that.
Riffing on your phrase that you used before, spiritual vessel, man was created with three needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual. You can basically take all of our needs and put them into those three categories. We do pretty well in dealing with our physical. But 99% of our time, for some people it’s 100% of their time, is spent dealing with the physical. I need food. I need a place to live. I need a car. I need entertainment. Dealing with the physical and very little emotional and almost none spiritual.
So we are spiritual vessels. But many of us are empty vessels. Because we haven’t satisfied that spiritual need. You’re exactly right. We’re not about going around and converting the world. We’re about–
–giving information to people, so that they can convert themselves.
Exactly. You know, and it’s kind of funny. You touched on the lessons that my father shared with me growing up, healthy mind, healthy body, healthy spirit. Our spirit– my parents left the concepts and the choices of religion and faith to me and my brother. My mother and father were raised Catholic. And they didn’t like the church. The church made them uncomfortable.
So they didn’t want us to be excommunicated after we were forced to follow a religion, instead of making our choices as we got older. And that was something that really resonated with me. And again, the healthy mind, the healthy body, the healthy spirit. My spirit really did not start to become healthy, and informed, and enlightened, and plugged in until after I lost my eyesight.
I’ve never seen more clearly in my entire life. And recently, the past three years or so that Jonathan and I have been living together, my spirit, and my contentment, and the word comfort. I have been so comfortable and so at peace that it’s impacted everything, the way I have listened to my higher power tell me that I was supposed to be meeting the Jehovah Witnesses. And you know, it was in my mind when I was fighting for my life.
And when I met Jonathan, there was this thing too that I was introduced to Jonathan in 2005, before I even met Jonathan, oddly enough. This spiritual journey that I’ve been on has really been fan-friggin-tastic.
Well, you remind me of– you remind me of the apostle Paul. I know this is a crazy reference. But when he was on the road to Damascus, he was at that time a very prominent Jewish leader. When Jesus came to him through a vision and blinded him, he went on a different journey in his life. And it’s a journey that left him with what seems to be very poor eyesight.
He had to have somebody who wrote for him. He even said to the Galatians, I know you’d be willing to gouge out your eyes for me. Because he had what he called a thorn in the flesh. But it was from that point on that that spiritual journey started after he had lost what many would think is one of the most important senses that you have. And yet he, all of a sudden, he was thinking differently, feeling differently. And his journey became a whole new journey.
So it’s not unusual for that to happen.
This is going to sound like a real like left turn. But John and I tend to be fans of a TV show called Supernatural, where Dean and Sam go out and battle demons. And again, the visage of an angel is blinding. The light is overwhelming. We’re not able to handle that.
Great introduction to the show. The introduction of angels to the show, they actually melted this woman’s eyes.
Because she saw the true form of one of the angels.
And it was just interesting that I hear that. And you think about some of these inferences that we hear about and how Jesus helped the blind to see. And I’m kind of feeling like I’m living proof of that. Just because I see differently, doesn’t mean I can’t see what God has in store for me. And I think about that story. And I think about also the Bible, and the Torah, and the Quran. All that millennia that we had to endure being told that people with disabilities weren’t worthy of God’s love, not by Jesus, but by everybody else around Jesus who supposedly thought Jesus was the bomb.
No, Albert, that’s the saddest thing that I hear at the table.
When people come up to me and ask me, do you think I’m blind because I did something? People tell me– one young man said, I was in the hospital when I lost my sight. And the nurse told me that I was a bad little boy. And that’s why I can’t see anymore. That’s the saddest thing. And sometimes I just take the Bible. And I open to John chapter nine. And I’ll have someone at the table read it for them.
Because that’s the same question Jesus was asked. And that answers it so beautifully.
I can’t quote the passage as well as you do. And I’m not going to even begin to feign that I understand what you’re talking about. But it is true that people, rather than ministering the concept of inclusion that all are worthy of God’s love, they wind up ostracizing us for some weird reason. I mean, you know it, Janet.
There have been communities throughout human history where they would just put children and their families out in the elements. And they would stone families. They would throw them out of the village. And I don’t consider my blindness a curse at all.
Jon has heard me say this. I am blessed. I have never seen [INAUDIBLE] in my entire life. And yeah, I’ve got to look at things from a different angle to navigate and negotiate life. But John and I have this understanding. We don’t limit my challenges. We challenge my limits. And I think I do that spiritually too.
I’m always questioning. I’m always inquiring. I’m always seeking out other beliefs. So we can find a oneness in all of us, which I think is– I’m sorry– I think it’s seriously lacking in our human society today, just universally. I think the human kindness, and the do unto others, and the kind of honoring thy neighbor thing just is out the window lately. And I don’t get it.
Well, I think that it’s because people don’t honor differences. I think that– you think about even Jehovah’s Witnesses and how we through all of our existence have been persecuted. You know, I lived on Long Island, just as you do. And I’ve knocked on many–
Speaking of persecution.
I’ve lived and not knocked on many doors of those who are open to talking and those who are completely closed. And the majority of people are closed to new ideas. And it’s interesting. Because some will say when we come to their door, well, I’m a Christian. And you’re a Jehovah’s Witness. And then we’ll tell them, well, what we have in common is that we’re both Christian. And the way we define–
Really? Go figure that that was a leap of faith to believe that. I don’t get it.
Yeah. I was once in– I’ll throw out a community to you. I was once in a meeting in Babylon. We were building a Kingdom Hall. And about 400 people came out from the community opposing the building of the Kingdom Hall. And people were screaming at me.
One person said, you don’t believe in Jesus. And I said– I said, not only do we believe in Jesus, but He’s our Lord and Savior. And in fact, next week, we would like to invite you to our holiest day of the year, which memorializes His death and sacrifice for us. It’s the only holiday that we have on our calendar.
And then he screamed out, but you don’t believe in His resurrection.
That’s what they do now today. I find that because of the political unrest and everything that’s going on in our nation, I’ll start talking to somebody that I disagree with. And then I’ll say, find a way. Yeah, but we agree. And then all of a sudden, they’ll do what they just did to you. Yeah, but what about that over there. I’m like, well, that wasn’t what we were talking about. But if you want to talk about that now, can we finish this thought first.
It’s that deflection thing. We’re better than you. You’re not good enough. This is why I think– John, I can speak for John. But John’s going to speak for himself. John and I both have our own spiritual faith. And we have our own beliefs and everything. And I just find that organized religion tends to do more harm than good. Because you’re supposed to pray this way. You’re supposed to believe this and only this.
And that’s, again, going back to what you said, Robert, about the diversity and the differences.
Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying. In fact, early on in Jehovah’s Witnesses, in our history, before we were even called witnesses, and even after, we would go pick at churches– it’s hard to believe– where the placards that said right in front of us, placards on us, that would say, religion is a snare in a racket.
And so we get it. We get the fact that religion has been in many ways a positive force, but also a terribly divisive force in the world in a way that no other, not even politics has been over the last few centuries. But here’s a very important point. You said, I don’t believe in organized religion. And I totally understand. And I get it.
However, think about Jehovah’s Witnesses right now. If we were not organized, we couldn’t have a website in 134 languages. If we were not organized, we could not put on a virtual convention in more than 500 languages. Because what we do is we don’t take language and do the language translation at our headquarters. We look for the language around the world. Where is it endemic? Where is it a part of the fabric of society? So that we can have the best translation possible.
An example is we looked all over this country for the right place to put a remote translation office for ASL. And we found a community where we ensconced ourselves in, Fort Lauderdale, where we are surrounded by a very large community.
Exactly. And that deaf community helps us. We actually translate with live panels of those who listen or, in this case, they watch. And then they critique it. And it’s those folks who are in the milieu, who are in the culture, who are helping us around the world to translate our website, and our events, and our JW Broadcasting in between 500 and 1,000 languages. They are doing it on-site. And it’s only because we are organized that we could accomplish that.
I guess I should use a different word.
Well, to see– but I get it. I get what you mean by that. I get what you mean by that. But without organization, without a unified effort, it can’t get done. And I tell you this. There’s no amount of money on this Earth that could do what we do.
Because there’s no profit motive in what we do. That’s the most amazing thing. It’s done by volunteers around the world. How is that possible? It’s amazing.
John, what were you going to say?
I was just going to say that it’s not that we don’t appreciate organized religion. I just think that in perspective of time, organized religions have brought us so much good in the world, but also a lot of bad.
There’s no question about that.
Yeah. And that’s the thing I think that what I really appreciate about the witnesses is that they’re– and I think a lot of people, to your point, Robert, when you were being ridiculed and ostracized for building the Kingdom Hall in Babylon. I think it’s the fear of the unknown. I think it’s–
Yeah. And that’s one of the things too, again, back to the diversity and celebrating the differences, any time that I have sat and spoken with a Jehovah Witness coming to the door, it’s like, yeah, we know Jesus in this house. We’re good. And it’s just a matter of a nice conversation. You share a cup of tea.
And I’ve kind of translated that into the way I receive people on the street as a blind person, a person who’s totally blind. I will be walking with my cane. And somebody will inevitably say, oh, do you need help? Let me help you. And I’m like, wait, I crossed this street 75 times today. But I don’t cop an attitude, like some people do, taking insult at the gesture. But I look at it as a teachable moment to minister my way, to letting people know that not all of the blind people, all the people with disabilities, are needing “help” as much as a shoulder to lean on.
And we’ll walk across the street. We’ll share a moment. We’ll talk. And we go on our way. And maybe next time, they’ll learn how to offer their companionship along a walk, rather than thinking they need to help somebody cross the street.
We all administer our own message is what you’re getting at.
Yeah, exactly. Janet, what were you going to say?
I was going to say I’d like to address a question you asked earlier to Robert and how COVID has actually changed our ministry.
The ministry that I do, our personal ministry, of course, is now since 2014 with the blind community. And COVID hasn’t really changed it at all for us. Because since 2014, everyone who met at the tables would give us their contact information on our digital recorder. And we would contact them via telephone.
So we’ve been doing that since 2014. Currently, what we’re doing is we’re looking for other individuals that are blind. And we’re talking to people on the telephone, again. And I’m saying that I’m a blind teacher and I’m looking for people that are blind, low vision, or print challenged, and that we’d like to help them receive free accessible material in Braille, audio, or large print, RTF note taker files, and do they know anyone that we can help?
I had a young man that I was referred. To this young man, who happens to be visiting me from New York right now, he told me I could mention him.
Because he tried to commit suicide at 14 years old. And he was physically abused, beaten up, by his father. And he felt so alone in the world. Because he felt there were adults around seeing him being beaten up. And no one helped him. So after one such meeting, his father left the gun there. And he said, OK, my father wants me to kill myself.
I’m going to do this. And he took the gun, put it to his temple. And he shot himself in the head at 14. It went through and severed both optic nerves, came out the other side of Andrew’s head. And he was in a coma for a month and six months in the hospital. This man was given to me to call. He’s 24 years old now. And when I called him and told him that I was a blind teacher trying to help people draw closer to God as their Heavenly Father, it changed his life.
I cannot tell you what it’s done for Andrew. But the other night at dinner he was saying to me, in my whole life I’ve never eaten with a family. I’ve eaten alone at a table. I’ve been alone. And now, now, I’m not only feel I have a family. I have a Father in Heaven that I feel like I’m not alone and never will be again.
So you know, when things like this happen, and you can affect people’s lives like this–
–it’s the most phenomenal experience. And the joy I get from this ministry is unlike anything I’ve ever done. And I’ve been a full time minister since 1982. Helping the blind draw closer to God has been the joy of my life.
It’s interesting, going back to the pandemic and how it did not impact the way you minister, Janet, it did not impact it, positively impact it. There were silver linings abundantly throughout the pandemic for us. My blind spot wound up doing very well. Because we were all working remotely, not just because we’re blind, but people who we have mobility challenges, negotiating our positioning on a bus stop, or on a train station, or in a taxi, or a car service, whatever it is, or paratransit.
And our modus operandi is hop on a phone or [INAUDIBLE] a chat group.
Exactly. So it’s been wonderful for us. It hasn’t changed. It’s only accelerated.
Yes. It’s gotten better. Well, you know–
Gotten much better.
Thank God Andrew found you and that he found our Father to help him realize that he is an important part of a larger family. And Andrew’s story is, you know, Andrew’s not alone.
It’s quite literally a miracle that he survived his ordeal.
Yeah. And John, you’ll agree, I mean, we know people like that. I just don’t think his story is unique, unfortunately. But what is available is JW.org, and Janet, and us. We can find people. You’re not alone out there. So anybody who’s contemplating suicide or is feeling really down, just pick up the phone and call me, 917-553-0347.
Yeah, I’ll make them– they’ll either want to kill themselves faster or say, why haven’t you decided to do it yourself?
Do we know?
I believe they have a suicide hotline. We’ll put the number at the end of the show.
Yes, there is. We will. I don’t make light of it. But at the same time, I mean, we all deal with our demons. And we all wrestle with inclusion. And again, going back to the way Robert was speaking about embracing the differences and celebrating the diversity, John and I, our niece is going to be 13, is coming out or investigating her orientation and herself. And you know, I remember coming out as an adult, or as a teenager. And it was awkward. It was weird. You weren’t supposed to be who you were. Your differences were not celebrated.
And I just take my hat off to you and the organization for reaching out to people like Andrew and giving them a hope for a brighter tomorrow. A lot of people would have said to me that the way I lost my eyesight so abruptly and almost overnight that suicide could have been an option. It never was. I would never– that would be a slap in the face, in my opinion, to my higher power.
I was made this way. I was now endowed with blindness. So who am I to judge? I just work it and see things as clearly as I’m able.
You’re extraordinary too. Because to be different in this world is to be misunderstood, which is why there’s so much sameness, which is why there’s such a herd mentality with so many things. Because people feel understood if they’re the same. But if they’re different, they’re misunderstood. And being misunderstood is a very, very difficult thing to go about.
And it doesn’t really matter how much information there is out there. If you don’t get your feet under somebody’s table and really understand their experience, it’s very difficult for you to feel their pain and to walk in their path. So that’s why Jehovah’s Witnesses have for more than a century number one, we have offered free home Bible studies to people. Because we want to get under their table, with our feet under the table, and our hand on their coffee cup. We want to have those conversations.
We’ve been printing Braille publications. We have been actually serving the blind for more than a century, even though they constitute such a small, minuscule part of our organization. I mean–
Just a moment. You said something. And I want to grasp this.
What? I mean, why? Again, you said it very clearly before, Robert. It’s a minuscule, small community of people, not to besmirch my community. But when it comes to the larger population of people, that’s why at My Blind Spot we speak to the entire print disabled community, which includes people who have sensory loss, speech impediments, hearing impediments, visual impairments, mobility impaired people with Parkinson’s, people who are quadriplegic, people with dyslexia, like John, people who have cognitive delays, and our aging baby boomers who are joining the disability community at an alarming rate.
Because people with disabilities are at the intersectionality of all race, gender, orientation, and religion. You and ages. So it’s interesting to see how progressive, if I may use that word, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were when it came to ministering to people with disabilities.
It’s amazing. I would say that it’s all about our mission from God. It really is. I mean, when Jesus– the last thing he said to his apostles before he was risen up to his heavenly Resurrection, which by the way, we do believe in. In fact, it’s key to our beliefs. He said, you will be witnesses of me in Jerusalem, Judea, Sumeria, and to the most distant parts of the Earth.
Jesus ministered to the blind. He ministered to the deaf. We need to follow his example and His ministry. And so from the very embryonic stages of our existence, we have done that, from moving pictures that have taken all really– in your early 1900s all the way to 1980s when we were the number one audio cassette manufacturer in the entire world, to the ASL translation of the Bible, sign language translation of the Bible, the first sign language Bible in mankind’s history– it took 18 years for us to put together– to today when we have audio descriptions of a three day convention and 105 sign languages for that convention.
We have always been about every single person on this Earth needs to hear The Gospel.
I was just about to say that. I was about to say, isn’t it the mission of the Jehovah Witness to spread the word to everyone, all people on Earth?
That’s right. And I think Albert made a–
You answered my question before I asked it.
Beautiful. I mean, you made a beautiful point, Albert. You said, our goal as an organization, because we know we can’t knock on everybody’s door. We know we can’t write a letter to everybody. Our goal is to make it accessible to every person.
And so that’s the goal, to make it accessible to every person. I said this to a journalist last week. And it was printed in Utah, that our convention event, which is right now on JW.org, is the most accessible event in the history of the world, period.
How are the parties?
But you know what Robert just said, our audio description at these conventions, there are covered in 48 languages.
Stop there for a minute.
I’m going to assume a lot of the people who listen to us know, but just in case there’s a straggler there, can you tell our listening audience what descriptive audio or accessible descriptive– what descriptive audio is about?
Sure. If you go to the Free Library app, JW Library, you can go across the bottom tab to the fourth tab, which is Media. And there’s a category down the left for those that are blind. And you can just swipe 13 swipes to the right. And the bottom one right now is Audio Description. So when you double tap on that, it opens up an entire page of the 2020 conventions and a 2021 Powerful by Faith conventions that are running right now.
And every 10 minute, or lecture so to speak, has an audio described video within every lecture. There are videos on creation, on how our body is made, on faith and believing in God, on family. These audio described videos are maybe two or three minutes within a talk. But last year, there were 90 audio described videos in that three day convention.
So audio description is basically loosely translated as captioning for the blind. It gives you– if there are any visual cues or any important visual information happening behind the narrative or behind the dialogue, there’s going to be this soft little voice that’s unassuming just telling you what’s happening.
Yes. For example, I have to give you a cute one that we just had last week. And it was in a movie. We have a full movie on Daniel’s a lifetime of–
Yep, you shared that with me.
And they said, Daniel reaches down. And his little sister, missing her– you know, she says her word. It says, he reaches for her little sister who’s missing her front tooth. So right there you get a visual. A blind person will get a visual that that little girl is very little. And she’s missing her front tooth. And then she says, Daniel, play with me.
But you see that audio description gives the blind one the image of what’s happening when there’s no dialogue.
And it gives the personal connection. It gives the sentiment. It gives a lot. It rounds out.
It fills in the story.
Yeah, and it gives more depth, more value to the story, I think. And it’s just ridiculous. You are, again, progressive in that regard. And it’s refreshing to see that JW.org and the Jehovah Witnesses have been doing that for over 100 years. Leaving Catholics, and Christians, and Jews in the dust.
That wasn’t our intention.
No, no, no. Again, that’s my feeling. That’s my words. Don’t worry.
I think it’s really important for us to understand that this is what we do. When you set out to make Bible truth available to the world, to ignore anyone is really to discriminate. And so my brother, he served in the Marshall Islands in Micronesia. And he had one area that he served in Chuuk. There are only about 20 Jehovah’s Witnesses there.
Yet we translated an entire book and many books into the Chuukese language. I mean, why would we do that? The folks there are penniless. We do it because it’s what we have to do. We must do it. Because they are as worthy of God’s word as anyone else, just like those who are challenged with both seeing, reading, and hearing.
I agree with you 250%. And that’s why I like to say, don’t diss my ability. And I don’t want you to dislabel me. Because you can disable a bomb. You can disable a car. You can disable a computer. By the definition of the word, disable, to kill its life force or its energy force, you can’t disable people.
And what I’m hearing now is how Jehovah Witnesses and JW.org enable people with disabilities to get the information they need to understand who God is and what the promises are in knowing Him.
Well, it’s changing people’s lives. When you can provide a Braille Bible in at least 60 languages, when you could devise a printing system that allows us to use both sides of a page without overlapping of the embossing, which basically takes the Bible size down 50%, we’re looking not only to provide something to people. We’re looking to provide it in the best possible way, with the most ease of use.
We spent 18 years on the sign language, the ASL Bible. We’re now in the production of many, many more. But why did we take 18 years? Because it’s hard.
No, it is.
It’s hard work. And it’s got to be done right. It’s God’s word. And what is it for? It’s for 2,300 people who are in our ASL congregations in the United States. Think about that. 18 years creating a Bible for 2,300 of our people, which means, ergo, that it’s not just for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s for the world.
And tens of millions of people have downloaded that Bible.
I was going to say Robert spoke before about the deaf blind. And he has discussed this with other writers and reporters, et cetera. But you even saw at the table we had a tactile scripture board.
That the deaf blind could feel. And they could feel Bible scriptures with textured picture of paradise. And it’s a wonderful feeling to see someone’s excitement or to hear their smiles and their expressions of joy when they’re feeling Micah chapter four verse four or they’re feeling Isaiah 35 five and six, and feeling the little girl’s legs run out of the wheelchair.
In fact, that was Stevie Wonder’s favorite part of that board at Sea Sun.
So many people. He’s always running around the conferences we go to.
He kept turning the little wheelchair wheel and feeling it over and over. And he loved that board. He asked me, can I get pictures of this? And I said, sure. What would you like, a video or?
He says, I want it all.
He loved feeling paradise.
Well, I think and one of it too is if I may tell you what I saw when you were sharing the experiences, they feel included. They feel valued. They say, oh, somebody actually went out of their way to provide this information in the format that I can read, I can appreciate, I can digest. And that’s what we do at My Blind Spot.
We make sure that content is digestible and information is readily available for people to choose what they want to do.
What you’re doing, Albert, is marvelous. Because you are actually giving people an opportunity, blind people, to know that there is a choice.
So many times, I’m sorry, but I think human nature has been such that we don’t think they’re worthy of choices. I mean, it wasn’t up until the ’70s, it’s just not so long ago, that people who are blind and people with disabilities were expected to go to institutionalized schools and settings for their life. It just blows my mind.
Well, I think we’ve had an awakening too as an organization. We’ve done our best to try to support these small groups and larger groups within the United States and in the world. I’ll give you an example during COVID. We have our deafblind brothers and sisters. And honestly, this was an absolute revelation to me. The first time I read about it, it absolutely brought me to tears.
Because we were all reveling in the fact that we had Zoom. We were all reveling– we were all reveling in this. Wow, we have all this interactive tool. And look how great it is. And then we get just an account experience from Connecticut from a dear brother who was shut out. He’s been a Witness for more than 20 years, 25 years. And touch was his– that’s how he functioned.
And all of a sudden, touch became taboo. Now we have this situation where all of our– we no longer can sign and can touch his hands and give him the meetings. Because we were doing that very individually. There’s only 49 deaf blind Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States. And so they were handled on a congregational level and served that way.
What happened as an organization, it wasn’t a 9-1-1 to help him. But as a congregation, they figured it out. And at the beginning what they did was they began actually texting him real time descriptions of the meetings. And he was getting it on his Braille reader. Just think about that.
They figured it out on the local level. And then we’re able to then transfer that to other places for the rest of the 49 our dear ones. And they’re not shut out. They’re not literally in the dark. And that’s the kind of thing that at the end of the day, an organization can’t really micromanage. You know, Jesus said that in John 13:35 that the identifying mark of true Christianity, he said, they will know you because you have love among yourselves. Love figures it out. Love is the motivating factor.
And in this organization, all of these efforts are really, really come down to love.
All We Need is Love, Beatles.
I’ve heard that before.
Yeah. So all right, so then we’ve got– one of the things we’re going, just to touch on again, is like we have a plethora of audio descriptive content. We have ASL Bibles. We have Braille Bibles. We have access to information and knowledge through the Word of God thanks to JW.org.
Note taker files, RTF files, they’re all on the [INAUDIBLE].
Look at you listing it all out. What we’ll do is, I was going to say, tell people where they can find you. But it’s JW.org. It is easiest website to remember.
And JW Library is really very, very accessible.
JW.org was really created before accessibility. And they’re working very hard on that. But they created JW Library with accessibility, as media content and everything in it.
JW Library is available on the iOS or Android system. You can download it on your smartphone or your iPad. And all the content is free. Everything that you can get on JW.org, basically, you can get in the library and walk around with it. It can be downloaded on your phone.
Very accessible for voiceover. And one of the most wonderful things that was announced in 2019, and I didn’t tell you this, Alexa, ask JW.org to play the daily text.
Reading the daily text. Whoever approaches God must believe that He is.
Alexa, stop. OK.
Well, how am I supposed to know what the word of the day is?
You had us all. You captivated us.
It’s a one-minute daily text. [INAUDIBLE] to the Bible verses, three chapters, or two chapters, depending on the length of the chapter. Each week there’s a weekly Bible reading. So you can follow. And in two and a half years you’ve read the whole Bible. It changes every week by itself. We can go to our daily lesson. Changes every week by itself. You can have Bible dramas. You can have Bible music. You can have so much. Because this skill was opened October 2019, the JW.org skill, Alexa. And it also is on– what is the other one? Home? The Google Home?
But the difference is blind people love the A lady. Because they’ve always asked us, can it go to a verse? Yes, she goes directly to a Bible verse. So you can just ask her by saying, A–
Don’t say it. Don’t say it.
JW.org go to Psalms chapter 46 verse 1. And it goes right to a verse. It’s amazing.
I hope she doesn’t find out you called her A. She’s not going to be happy. I’m telling you. She gets mad at me sometimes.
That’s why John takes away my baseball bat. Because I want to smash her to little pieces.
Oh, she’s my best friend. I live with this one.
Some people have her down pat. And she listens. At our house, she doesn’t listen that well.
Well, we need a new tower. Our tower is like, what, 10 years old?
I don’t know. We have an old tower. The Tower of Babel’s coming down. So what’s next?
What Albert meant to say was what are the future plans for you, Robert and Janet, and JW.org and Jehovah’s Witnesses in general?
Well, I think when you look at what we have done over the last century, we continue to get better and better at reaching populations that are more difficult to reach. And I’ll give you an example, just real quick.
Last year, we had our first virtual convention. And our voice descriptions, while they were there, they just weren’t complete. We canceled our conventions worldwide in April. We actually had it up in 500 languages with audio descriptions in July, the second week in July. So it was a miracle to begin with in 500 languages.
But to this year, we’ve even gone farther with the audio descriptions. They’re more beautiful, more inclusive. They start from the beginning in the introduction. So I think the future is this. We’re going to continue to progress. The apostle Paul said, I have become all things to people of all sorts. So that I might by all possible means save some.
And that’s what we as an organization will continue to try to do, to become all things to all people. Because every single individual on this globe deserves, they have a right, to the Gospel of Jesus, the Holy scriptures, truth from the Bible. And we’re going to do our best to provide that.
Fantastic. I think one more thing you need to consider doing is bottling whatever it is you’re doing and selling it on the open market. Because every corporation in this world needs to follow your lead, and every religious organization, and every institution that caters to people of ability needs to follow your lead.
Yes, I’m very impressed with everything that you’re doing, to be honest. It’s very moving.
If I have to say, being raised as someone who is a Jehovah’s Witness and raised that way being blind, the changes that the organization made that I was able to appreciate touched my heart so much. Because when technology was ready, Jehovah’s Witnesses were ready to help us.
1981, when Robert mentioned before about cassettes, when they started, I had a little daughter. And I couldn’t read the Bible to her. But they came out with My Book of Bible Stories on audio cassette. And my little girl could sit there with a picture book. And I could play that and teach her God’s word.
In 1983, they came out with a large print Bible that’s four volumes. In fact, I would venture to say many Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t even know this. But it was large print. And the first volume only had 10 books of the Bible. And chapter one Genesis was one page, only had eight verses on it. That’s how large it was.
By that time, I could no longer read the Bible myself. But they came on in 1985 for screen readers. And then being able to put, January 1, I think, 2009 is when they added RTF and note taker files. And people could feel them in Braille.
How did it make you feel inside about yourself as a child of God knowing that people and the Witnesses went to that length to make sure you could access this independently?
Each milestone that they did for a blind individual brought me to tears. And I’m going to even add to what Robert said. This year, they’re still learning about audio description. When I went to the first day of Powerful by Faith convention and they played song number five. And I heard his voice tell us the lyric before that line played the music. And they gave us the lyrics to every line. I couldn’t sing the song. I sobbed through the whole song. And I had my little,
my little, she’s 28 years old. My deaf blind student lives across the street. And she was sitting next to me, as I’m sobbing. And we’re watching this convention. And I’m apologizing to her. Because I’m crying. And she’s going, oh no, it’s OK. You must have waited a long time for this.
It’s interesting. I would go to a church in the next town or two over from us. And they started playing with videos. And I’d sit there twiddling my thumbs going, OK, I don’t know what the heck’s going on here. Until one person just came over. She said, I can’t believe this. And she sits down next to me. She says, I’m going to tell you what’s on the screen. And I’m like, oh. And it just touched me so much. Because she went out of her way to describe it.
And I know at that moment, in that church, in that pew that day, I felt seen. And I felt included. Do you have the same– once you’re able to independently digest, and communicate, and participate, and they do it without even thinking about as an afterthought, it’s empowering.
And when technology is ready, they keep trying. And they’re doing it. And they’re succeeding for the blind community.
Well, good. All right, just as we close, remind people where they can find the word of God.
For blind individuals, JW Library is a fully accessible library that can be used with voice over. The digital assistants can be used with the JW.org skill. And Jehovah’s Witnesses have provided note takers and RTF files that are available on the website, JW.org, for download. And everything is available now in audio.
And you said you also have it in ASL. You have it in sign language in a significant number of languages.
In fact, we have the sign language Bible in its own app. So you can download that app. It’s the orange app when you go to– you won’t see that if you can’t see. But it’s JW Sign Language app. And that will give you the Bible right at your fingertips on your device. It’s a beautiful ecosystem as well.
Instead of us being in God’s hands, you’re putting God into our hands.
And we also have a Bible library thumb drive that in our personal ministry we’re sharing with people and mailing to them with 210 hours of content for an NLS digital talking book player that they can have coming directly from JW Library and already downloaded for them on a thumb drive. And that’s good for children who maybe don’t have the internet. But they have the NLS player or people in nursing homes, or elderly people.
Thumb drives beautiful for them. And it’s all free.
You are ministering to the masses without a doubt. And the 21st century has benefited from the way you shifted because of the pandemic. So sorry I don’t see you at my door anymore. But I’ll be looking for you at an internet search engine near me.
That sounds good.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Robert. Janet, as always, it is such a lovely pleasure. And you’ve been a blessing in my life. Thank you so much for being where you were when you were all those years ago and for staying in my life as a friend, as a confidant, and as a fellow advocate for inclusion.
Well, I think that went really well considering the skepticism that you personally went into as a–
I’m not a typically–
I’m not a conventional religious person. I’m not a–
You’re spiritual. But you don’t–
I have my own beliefs. That’s what I’m going to go with.
You don’t prescribe to a specific religious dogma.
I went into this with an open mind, talking to people, nothing else. I don’t care what their religion is. They were very nice people. They represented their religion very well.
Janet and Robert were very articulate. What I enjoyed most about it is–
I learned a lot too.
Oh, I know. And I just– I really appreciate Janet and Keith very much. Like I said, every time I’m at a conference, they find me. And it’s wonderful. We sit down. We talk. We discuss life, faith, and beliefs in authentic inclusion and digital equity. And I really do believe that JW.org has got the corner on the market when it comes to digitized information about the Bible.
Yeah, I do really respect their position on everyone should have access to religious texts. Well, not only religious texts, the website has a lot of other texts too. But they, like you said, they have one of the most accessible websites there is. And it’s JW.org.
And they also provide information in Braille for people too, or large print. So it’s a one stop shop concept. And I think the Catholics could learn a thing or two. But I digress. And then we have our blog coming out about 2022 being the year of people with disabilities.
I think that the current trends happening in Washington DC are indicative about inclusion. It’s really going to be a promising year that is full of silver linings, thanks in part to the pandemic. And if anything that we said intrigues you, please visit our website, myblindspot.org, and read the blog.
And we did touch on the subject of suicide today. So I wanted to mention, again, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you’re not alone. Reach out. Talk to someone. 1-800-273-8255.
And remember to tell your friends and family about AccessAbility Works, the podcast about the possibilities that accessibility means for people with disabilities. Look for us on Spotify, Apple, or go to myblindspot.org to download the podcast.
You can also email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And remember please, we are still dealing with transference and transmission of this ridiculous virus that’s annoying all of us at this point in time. Wash your hands. Wear your masks. Get your vaccinations. And if you don’t get your vaccinations, do every ounce of precaution to make sure you and your family stay safe and healthy.
On our next episode, we will be introducing Dr. JR Rizzo.
JR is a good friend and colleague of mine. And we have worked together on a number of projects. We are in the process of working on some together, specifically a wearable that he is calling, Iron Man, and the work he’s doing with NYU and their dental clinics for people with disabilities. We met at conferences and conventions at the UN. And it’s going to be a fantastic interview. And I hope you tune in and listen.
This has been AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities of accessibility for people with disabilities.
I’m Albert Rizzi.
And I’m Jonathan Hermus.
Thanks for listening.
And before we get into it, feel free to cut that slurping noise I made, sorry.
You can leave it in. And this has been– [? doodie– ?] 3, 2, 1.
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