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ASL Bible now available for eastern Idaho’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing community


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IDAHO FALLS — A 15-year project to make the Bible accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing is now complete.

Keith Hildreth, a local media representative for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, tells an electronic version of the New World Translation is available for free in American Sign Language.

“This is the first one where they can actually put it on a smartphone or a tablet. Before, it was DVDs or a disk. It was a major undertaking and it’s pretty neat,” Hildreth says.

The ASL version comes in the form of a video. It is conveyed by people using their hands, face and body to communicate the message of each verse.

There are 232,310 people who are deaf and hard of hearing in Idaho, according to the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Since its release in February of 2020, Hildreth says many have described it as the “best gift during the pandemic.”

“The love really shines through in the gestures and the expressions of the translators,” Cheri Hoogs of Idaho Falls, who has been hard of hearing since birth, says in a news release.

1 ASL Bible collage of signs
Courtesy Keith Hildreth

Translating the Bible into American Sign Language got underway in 2005, which was spurred by a desire to make the Bible accessible to everyone equally, including deaf people. Jehovah’s Witnesses reached a milestone on Feb. 15, 2020, when the ASL translation was officially announced at an event in Florida.

Robert Hendriks, a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, called the translation a historic undertaking and “a labor of love.”

“Their reaction has been, ‘I can finally take control of my own spirituality. I am not dependent on anyone. I can finally have a relationship with my Creator,’” he said. “The Bible is now in their own language, hitting their heart, affecting them in this powerful way. All of a sudden they feel closer to God.”

The ASL translation is only one of 33 Bible language projects the Witnesses completed in 2020. The New World version of the Bible is currently available in 195 languages. An additional 36 additional languages will be added in 2021.

“If there’s a group of people who speak a specific language and we can get a Bible translated in that language, that’s what we do,” Hildreth says.

Since the onset of COVID-19, local proselyting efforts for Jehovah’s Witnesses have ceased, a trend Hildreth says is going to continue for the foreseeable future. Despite that, he says the interest in Jehovah’s Witness teachings has been bigger than ever.

“We haven’t been able to do anything but make phone calls and write letters for over a year, but we’ve actually had more response than we ever had knocking on doors,” he says. “They’re going to the website and requesting more information or they want to talk to somebody. It’s very interesting.”

Hildreth is happy to see the increased interest and he’s grateful the Bible is now more accessible to everyone.

“It will be exciting to see how this new tool will be put to good use in our local ASL community,” Royce Porkert, an Idaho media representative for Jehovah’s Witnesses, says in a news release.

The ASL translation is available for download directly through the website.