Joni and Friends Blog
Disability in Mission through Technology
How can technology improve the way that people with disabilities participate in the mission field?
I think I and my coworkers have found several ways.
My name is Kim-Fu Lim. I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and came to the States to do my undergraduate training. My interest in electronics developed very early in my childhood. In junior high, I took a class in electronics and built radios and Citizen Band (CB) radios. Landlines were very expensive, and CB gave me unlimited minutes to talk with my friends.
My high school placed a rigorous emphasis on math and science which prepared me for college. I finished my undergrad with a double major in Computer Science and Mathematics at the University of Washington in Seattle. The Lord then blessed me with a software engineering role to develop Logic Synthesis software. I continue my software career building systems for a wide variety of industries: wireless, Homeland Security, eCommerce, Cloud and Alexa.
Interest in designing supportive technology beginning and growth.
While working at Amazon, I joined their internal group to promote hiring people with Disabilities. Through this commitment, I got to know an engineer who is DeafBlind and yet performed well at Amazon. In recent years, a lot of great invention emerging has enabled people with disabilities to perform work that would not have been possible before.
Meeting with UW Prof. Richard Ladner.
I visited professor emeritus Richard Ladner at the University of Washington to get his view on the future of accessible technology specifically for the DeafBlind. He told me an inspiring story of how he grew up with both parents Deaf. While teaching, he had the opportunity to work with a Ph.D. student who is blind, and was having trouble reading his textbooks; mathematical formulas had to be converted into Braille or read aloud, and graphs had to be manually printed on an embosser. They later launched the Tactile Graphics project, which automated the conversion of textbook figures into an accessible format. He gave me some samples of his work. And then I touched the embossed paper, my heart was filled with joy and grit to invent on behalf of the Blind.
Devices, programs, or other applications supporting disability in mission.
My son, Chris joined Amazon in 2009 and left the company in 2013 to launch Theotech. “What if God is our customer?” This question launched his journey exploring what it means to obsess over God’s desires and invent products that create foretastes of His Kingdom. Read the full backstory on our founder’s blog.
I joined Amazon in 2012 and in 2019, I stepped down from the Amazon Alexa group to join Theotech and strengthen our most recent invention SPF.IO which enables everyone to present their message in many languages simultaneously. By seamlessly combining Artificial Intelligence with Human Intelligence to provide captions and translations of live speech, spf.io creates an amazing multilingual experience for every member of their audience including the Deaf and the Blind. Learn more: https://www.spf.io
How deaf and blind people might use these tech applications.
I remember growing up with a female cousin who was deaf. For reasons unknown to me, she never learned any sign language. It was difficult to communicate with her. I became interested in theology of disabilities because in many cultures, people with disabilities are viewed as curse. I wanted to know Christian view of disabilities.
To my surprise, the Bible presents a completely opposite view. Not only God allows it, the LORD authors it according to Exodus 4:11. Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” This claim came out of God’s conversation with Moses. Many commentators believe Moses has some speech impairment and yet God still chose him to lead the nation of Israel – something that was beyond his comprehension.
In fact, in John 9:1-3, we learn that Jesus expels any social stigma that relates disabilities to punishment for sins.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”
What strikes me about this verse is that Jesus tells us that we need people with disabilities to display the works of God. In other words, without People with Disabilities the Church is not only incomplete but also incompetent to display the works of God in our church.
Most of my Christian friends remember the story when John the Baptist was in prison and started to question if Jesus is the Messiah (Luke 7). So, he asked his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Majority (including me) did not remember how Jesus answered this question.
In verse 22 he replied to the messengers,
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
What is profound here goes beyond the miracles that set Jesus apart from other religious leaders. It is the implication that He needs people with disabilities to display His supremacy and to prove that He is indeed the Messiah.
Given that people with disabilities are integral to displaying God’s glory, how many churches include them today?
This is what gets me excited to come to work every day. SPF.IO makes it easy, seamless, and affordable for any church to include the blind and the deaf. It’s Multilingual Audio Description enables the blind from any nation to hear what is happening on the stage. And Multilingual Caption enables the deaf or hard-of-hearing to know what is happening through captioning or delivering scripted text in real-time, or streaming venue audio directly to their device for assistive listening in their own heart language.
Mission to sight and hearing impaired globally who speak other languages.
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are a few.
I think technology such as AI is one of the laborers that God bless the Church with. Millions of churches spread the Good News day in and day out. Imagine if every single one of them is enabled to empower the deaf and the blind to lead. The impact for global mission, evangelism and discipleship will be phenomenal.
God is most glorified when the Church includes People with Disabilities and becomes their extended family, their friends so the Body of Christ may be complete. I love how Lausanne Forum 2004 summarized their report:
At the conclusion of our nine days together at Forum 2004, we underscored that:
- the whole church must obey the Master’s mandate as stated in Luke 14:21-23
- we must go out with the whole gospel and, with love, compel all people with disabilities to come in;
- the Father’s house may be full,
- the world might know His awesome power in weakness,
- all may worship Him together and
- the rule and reign of the Kingdom of God should be established in all the earth.
What needs to change for people with disabilities through technology?
I believe God is calling His Church to include People with Disabilities. However, this does not resonate well with the majority status quo. It is more convenient to segregate them into their own affinities. Churches that used to offer American Sign Language (ASL) Interpretation in the service no longer do that due to budget cut. As a result, churches in America are more segregated than ever.
Planting Deaf churches has been the de-facto strategy for many years. While it is no doubt, they serve the community much better than the conventional churches today, they do not scale. The Deaf community spreads out and spans many miles apart, it makes logistically impractical to bring them together to one place.
The internet has made it possible for churches to continue to meet virtually. Advances in AI makes it affordable for any church to offer live caption as well as audio description. My desire is to use technology to train the Deaf to sing in a choir, preach a sermon in ASL and let the audience receives it in multiple languages. Help the Blind to depict the key visual elements that are necessary to understanding the drama, play, cantata, arts and with tactile graphics printer, we can even teach the Blind to read musical notes.
I believe this is what God desires for the Church today. Let us deliver this outcome.
Written By—Kim-Fu Lim
Kim-Fu Lim is Cofounder of Theotech and serves as the Global Lead for Strategy and Business Development for itsproduct, SPF.IO.
Edited by David C. Deuel & Nathan G. John
Disability in Mission: The Church’s Hidden Treasure outlines a radical change in approaches to missiology, missions, and praxis for the twenty-first-century global cultural context. It explores a pattern whereby God works powerfully in missions through disability and not in spite of it.