'I'm Not Excluded' — Live Audio Descriptions For The Blind Go Beyond The Play-By-Play
Thirty minutes before the St. Louis Blues took on the Edmonton Oilers on a recent evening, fans slowly filled the seats of the Enterprise Center. A blues band playing in a concourse on a lower level was shown on the Jumbotron and pumped through the speakers.
In a luxury suite, MindsEye personnel tested the wireless headsets they’d later give to a group of visually impaired young people. Volunteer Cory Sturdevant was on tap to describe the game for them.
Unlike professional radio broadcasters working the game, he had the task of going beyond the play-by-play. He was there to provide a vivid picture of the full experience.
For decades, MindsEye has produced radio broadcasts for the blind, having volunteers read from newspapers and magazines. In 2016, the Belleville-based organization added descriptions of live events, like theater performances, museum tours and a solar eclipse party. It also hosts two annual tournaments of beepball, a version of baseball designed for the visually impaired.
After a test run at a Blues game last year, the group partnered with Enterprise Center and Stifel Theatre to provide audio descriptions of an eclectic roster of events, including WWE Raw and Baby Shark Live.
For a sporting event, the audio descriptors help their listeners take in the full scope of the event, down to the trivia questions posted on the Jumbotron.
Those details make all the difference for a visually impaired sports fan who wants the full, live experience.
“It really makes me feel like I’m a part of the game. I’m not excluded from the game,” said Andrew Adolphson, 22, of St. Louis. "It feels really, really nice.”
Sturdevant previously provided audio descriptions for the professional wrestling event at the Enterprise Center.
“That was a lot harder than you’d think. You’ve got to really know the techniques and wrestling moves and stuff like that,” he said. “I also did the Harlem Globetrotters, and that was harder than wrestling. There’s so much going on with the confetti, the jumps, the tricks.”
During game play, Sturdevant spoke in a rapid cadence, keeping up with all the passes, checks and shots. He was just as thorough in his description of the outfits worn by members of the ice crew that skated out to clean up the rink during a break in the action.
“We’ve got ugly Christmas sweaters, and we’ve got a suit that has snowmen on it. We’ve got some jackets, all of 'em have sock hats on with shovels,” he said. “They’re skating right to left, left to right, just cleaning up the creases of the goalies.”
During the second period, Blues mascot Louie romped through the suite, greeting and hugging the kids. Seventeen-year-old Gabriel Gregson, who is blind, was in the front row, focusing hard on the description of the game and the sound of the skaters on the ice.
Sturdevant added a key detail to his broadcast: “Gabriel, Louie is right next to you.”
When asked about the impact of this sort of audio description, Gregson echoed Adolphson’s language.
“I’m feeling pretty included,” Gregson said. “That’s almost never the case, even at school.”
Gregson plays trombone in the marching band and the pep band at Triad High School in Troy, where he’s a junior. But once the football or basketball game starts, he’s left out. He said classmates sometimes agree to describe the game to him, but then they don’t follow through.
“They don’t really care about it. They don’t want to do it,” he said. “It hurts. It really hurts. Because I want to have the same fun as everyone else.”
This was the first Blues game he’d been to, but on this night he felt right at home.
“I’m doing all the dances, I’m getting loud, I’m just having fun over here,” Gregson said. “You should have heard me scream when they scored that one goal over there.”
Jeremy can be found on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin.
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