Listening Session Suggestions and Adaptations with Simple Language and Pictures

Planning Accessible Synodal Listening Session – Including Adaptations with Simple Language and Pictures

Facilitating comfort and trust amongst participants is important.  On this page are suggestions to help with this.  The link at the bottom of the page provides adapted resource and planning for individuals who process information better with pictures and simple language.  Allow for alternative options, such as:

  • Scheduled listening sessions. In general, it’s important to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities and their families to participate general listening sessions through your general invitations and announcements. More will be said below on support for participating in a general listening session.
  • Incorporate listening sessions into new community or action-oriented gathering. For example, the new Vine & Branches collaboration within or between parishes in the Archdiocese of Newark.
  • Leverage comfort and strength within active groups already meeting in the parish with a listening session. This option will be more comfortable for individuals who prefer kinesthetic engagement in addition to environment of trusting relationships. This could include time after an Inclusive Family Mass. Then provide participants with resources to reach out to others who either feel estranged from the Church or uncomfortable with a listening session platform.
  • 90 minutes or longer may be too long for some people or they may have transportation issues, or uncomfortable with the environment. Possible options are to offer multiple shorter sessions that build on each other, suggestion above about empowering outreach, or one of the additional possibilities listed here below.
  • Reach out to individuals with disabilities and/or family members and ask if they would prefer someone visits in their home or on the phone to ask questions. Even if they say no, they will at least know you care, are interested, and want to be supportive.
  • Accept alternate forms of communication that reflect on the questions, such as audio recordings, journaling, or drawings.
  • Support alternate communication methods for reflecting on the questions, such as photovoice.[1] More information will be available on this soon.

Considerations for An Adapted Synodal Process Structure and Environment

  • Encourage diverse participants, 4 – 6 at a table following “Spiritual Conversation” method. Sharing takes at least one hour (Vademecum Appendix, B8). Detailed description of process on Synod website.[2]
  • Enhance the reflective experience by providing visuals and quotes around the room that foster reflection, understanding, and connections.  Include visuals for any of the 10 themes your parish is focusing on. They should be large enough to be visible from the tables. See “Themes” to select from.
  • It is particularly important to either avoid or explain ‘theological jargon’ with individuals who process better through concrete language, images, and stories.  However, you’ll also discover many of your ‘neurotypical’[3] parishioners will appreciate this as well!
  • Introduce “synodality” and the primary questions, and alternate wording.  ‘Synod’ comes from the Greek word meaning ‘common path’ and means “‘pauses on that path’ to gain strength and discern.” (3 questions to understand Synodality Click here for the Latin American Church on this translated by Google.
  • Basic reflection question: “How is this ‘journeying together” happening today in your local Church?  What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “journeying together”?
  • It is important to break up compound questions into individual ones as well as adapt wording. Some possibilities are:
  • “How does your parish work together like Jesus teaches us in the Gospel?”
  • “What is an example when your parish worked well together?“
  • “What is an example when it didn’t work well together?”
  • “How is the Holy Spirit prompting your parish to do this better?”
  • Plan an informal opening activity to foster comfort with each other.
  • For people who communicate better with images, have different images/photos that illustrate different experiences or reactions to the questions.  Also have paper, pencils, crayons, and thin markers for people who are more comfortable sharing through pictures.  (“Suggested tools for reflection, sharing and responding)
  • Have table facilitator and at least one recorder, perhaps two for comparing notes, who writes down what people say. 
  • Have an additional support person that is part of group, but oriented toward simple prompting for individuals who need it and recording what they say.
  • Where is guidance on additional support through earlier preparation of quiet area?

Accessible Small Group Sharing – Some Suggestions for Table Facilitators and Recorders

  • Suggestions for presenter to the large group will also help table facilitators.
  • Table facilitators should have additional resources to draw on to clarify the questions for anyone who doesn’t understand them. 
  • For participants who communicate better through pictures and/or stories, it would be great to have an additional ‘recorder’ at the table.  If possible, this is someone from the parish that knows the person, such as a catechist, or who knows them in some other way.  A teen leader could be very good at this also, as well as an educator or education student in the parish.
  • It could be good for this recorder to listen and talk with the person to the side first, before sharing with the group.  Another possibility is to meet at another time or before the meeting begins to start the process of sharing.

Click here to access Listening to All with Simple Language and Pictures Adapted Reflections in English.

[1] Photovoice has an established history of empowering individuals with limited verbal expressive language, as well as other conditions, to ‘speak up’ and share their reflective experiences. More coming regarding references and suggestions for this methodology. Support may require providing access to materials, both digital and others, for photovoice journaling. This is important from a social justice perspective to provide space for voices often unheeded.

[2] Emphasizing the importance of such support, “What is most crucial is adopting suitable methods that facilitate attentive listening, genuine sharing, and a communal spiritual discernment.” Vademecum, 4.4.8.

[3] Usually refers to individuals who do not have one of a number of diverse conditions like autism, dyslexia, and ADHD under the umbrella of ‘neurodiversity.’ Neurodiversity is part of an emerging recognition that these conditions should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths to be acknowledged by supportive communities. This is consistent with Catholic Social Teaching which affirms the dignity of every person, each created in the image of God and deserving of a life that is fully human.