A religious nonprofit keeps pace with accessible technologies
Eliaz Azarraga is blind and can’t read the captivating content or see the vivid images of the website displayed on her tablet. Yet she’s not missing a single detail on the page.
That’s because the website employs a powerful accessibility tool: audio descriptions. So, like her sighted companions, she can consider the thrilling story of Daniel trapped in the lions’ den and visualize the strong angel standing with wings outstretched, protecting the aged prophet from the ravenous lions.
“Having the audio descriptions, it feels like I can see it myself,” said Eliaz of Roxas City. Normally, I ask my mom what’s going on in the video, but now the Bible’s message come to life for me. It makes me very happy.”
Eliaz is among the 43 million people worldwide who are living with blindness, according to a report by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness’s Vision Atlas. Additionally, the report says that 295 million people have moderate to severe visual impairment. To acknowledge this large community, World Blindness Awareness Month is observed in October to bring attention to the realities of living without sight.
Realizing the challenges, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been providing – free of charge – scripturally-based audio, video and print content in formats compatible with the technology used by those who are blind or visually impaired.
“The message of comfort and hope found in the Bible should be made available to everyone,” said Local Spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses Seth Nono. “For this reason, we have made a concerted effort to reach those in our communities who are blind or visually impaired.”
To help the blind or visually impaired navigate jw.org, the nonprofit’s official website, the Witnesses developed the jw.org skill on Alexa. The skills allow Alexa-enabled devices to play or read aloud Bible-based content from jw.org.
“She loves the pretty voice in jw.org skill” said Psykhe Azarraga of Roxas City, the mother of Eliaz. “We are so thankful to have easy access to the wealth of Bible-based information on jw.org. It helps our daughter do her own personal study and research without taking too long to read.”
The Witnesses are also incorporating accessible tools into their growing library of educational videos. For instance, audio descriptions in more than 90 languages are available for most of their online visual content.
In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they launched their first virtual global convention that featured 114 videos equipped with audio descriptions explaining the on-screen action.
Similarly, electronic versions of their publications include audio descriptions of images.
The vividly narrated videos, photos and illustrations help Eliaz and feel included and cared for. “I truly feel like I belong to a beautiful worldwide family of fellow believers when I am able to learn from the same materials as everyone else. Braille is okay, but sometimes I feel tired to read. Now, by repeatedly listening to the audio, I can learn fast and prepare for meetings,” Eliaz added.
The Witnesses offer literature in several languages for the blind or visually impaired in these formats:
● Audio files via their official JW Library app and jw.org website.
● Large print, Rich Text Format (RTF).
● Electronic files for notetakers (portable electronic devices with a speech synthesizer and a refreshable Braille display).
● Electronic files for screen readers (computer programs that read audibly whatever is on the monitor).
In 1988, the organization produced the first edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in English Braille. It is currently available in more than 14 languages. In 2009, they began offering their flagship Bible-based magazine, The Watchtower, in electronic Braille and soon after added more publications and articles for Braille computers for download on jw.org. The Witnesses now print Braille in 48 languages.
For more information on Jehovah’s Witnesses, their beliefs, and what they have to offer, visit jw.org.