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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Easing of Physical Distancing Welcomed by DeafBlind Community After Pandemic Isolation

The touch brought Steven Casto closer to God. Then, in 2020, touch became taboo.
“I felt sad,” said Steven of the pandemic restrictions that threatened to isolate him in his
dark, silent world. “For two years, I wasn’t able to interact with others.”

Easing of Physical Distancing Welcomed by DeafBlind Community After Pandemic Isolation


Steven is blind and deaf. The 61-year-old “sees” his world through touch — people, places, and things. That sense, sharpened by necessity, brings Steven great joy.


“I love to touch flowers,” he said. “They help me understand more about our Creator.”
Steven learned about his Creator by studying the Bible using tactile signing, a form of sign
language that relies on touch rather than sight. Tactile signing has been his connection to
worship with a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses since he was baptized in October of
2012.
In March of 2020, in response to the threat of COVID-19, Jehovah’s Witnesses suspended
all in-person congregation gatherings, replacing them with virtual meetings held via
videoconferencing applications.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have long cared for the needs of the deaf and blind. For over a
century, the organization has produced Bible-based publications for the blind. Today, Bible
study material is available in Braille — as well as 100 sign languages — on the Witnesses’
official website, jw.org


“God views life as sacred, and so do we,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for
Jehovah’s Witnesses, regarding the organization’s decision. “The value of life transcends
even the value of Christians meeting together.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses have long cared for the needs of the deaf and blind. For over a
century, the organization has produced Bible-based publications for the blind. Today, Bible
study material is available in Braille — as well as 100 sign languages — on the Witnesses’
official website, jw.org.

“When meetings were suspended, I was concerned because he was so isolated,” said
Quintin Blue, a Washington, D.C. native began learning ASL as a foreign language in
school when he was 13 years old. “I was afraid that he wouldn’t know the love we have for
him; I didn’t have the chance to see him for two years.”


Love for Steven moved his fellow worshipers to action. They helped him attend and
communicate during ASL group meetings, held on Zoom, with the aid of a TTY Braille
system. “He could use his TTY Braille to converse and be part of the meeting even though
he was home alone,” said Paul Chesnavage, a congregant that helped provide Steven with
communication access.

Steven was never deprived of Bible-based meetings, even at the height of pandemic
restrictions. And when in-person meetings resumed on April 1, Steven was eager to return;
along with nearly 1.3 million Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 13,000 congregations around the
The United States.

“I jumped for joy when the meetings reopened,” Steven said. “I was so excited to be back.”
With the help of fellow congregants, Steven has been enjoying meetings in person again.
In the summer of 2020, an exciting gift for deaf-blind Witnesses delivered yet more proof
of that love. When it was announced that the Witnesses’ annual convention would be
presented virtually for the first time in the organization’s history due to the pandemic,
many wondered what provisions would be made for the deaf-blind.

To their amazement, printed transcripts of the entire three-day convention program,
including a full-length Bible drama, were provided in Braille.

Years later, that convention’s uplifting program continues to help Steven look beyond the
pandemic to the paradise promised in the Bible. “I am looking forward to getting my
vision and hearing back,” he said. “Even my red hair is going to come back!”
Such efforts along with the continued labors of fellow congregants are only to be
expected. “It doesn’t even seem like work,” said Quintin.

“My greatest joy is helping teach and encourage the Deaf community,” said Quintin, who
has since become an interpreter through the Interpreter Training Program at CCBC in
Baltimore. Joined by his wife, Melanie, they volunteer a majority of their time to assist
those in the deaf community to learn Bible truths.

“I want to do my part to help more Deaf to learn about the Bible,” added Melanie, who
learned ASL in order to volunteer alongside her husband in Leesburg and surrounding
areas.

For his part, Steven is moved by his fellow worshipers’ loving efforts on his behalf — but
he’s not surprised.

“He would always express gratitude for Jehovah’s blessings,” said Melanie.
More information on the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses is available at jw.org, with
content in over 1,000 languages.

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