The following letter was addressed and submitted to the major sports league commissioners in January 2024.
I am writing to you not only as a sports fan, but in my capacity as President of the National Federation of the Blind, the transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans. Our organization seeks the full participation of blind people in all aspects of our society so that we can live the lives we want. We do this through collective action to promote policies decided upon by our annual national convention, which is our supreme governing authority. Please find enclosed a resolution passed at our most recent convention held in Houston, Texas in July of 2023.
As stated in the resolution, many blind people enjoy the shared experience of live sports. We supplement the unique stadium experience by listening to the live radio broadcast of the event as we cheer on our team from the stands. The radio play-by-play typically provides the descriptive information that we need since we cannot see the action on the field. But this experience often falls short of allowing our equal participation due to the broadcast delay applied to the radio commentary. This delay, sometimes several seconds or even longer, creates a disconnect between the live action and the auditory description, diminishing the overall experience. It means that blind fans learn about a particularly spectacular (or disappointing) play long after the fans around us have already reacted to it.
We believe it is both feasible and crucial for major sports leagues to develop policies and practices that standardize live audio commentary without a broadcast delay for in-stadium attendees. Currently, while some franchises have implemented solutions by working with their broadcast partners or by other means, such as dedicated receivers that fans can borrow, there is currently no way for a blind fan to know what they will experience at different venues, or even sometimes from season to season at the games of their favorite home teams. Therefore, we are asking for the adoption of league-wide best practices.
Finding a solution to this issue would not only be a testament to your league’s commitment to inclusion but also send a strong message about the importance of accessibility in sports. Every fan should have an equal opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the excitement of the moment.
We urge you to collaborate with technology providers, broadcasters, and other stakeholders to devise a universal, delay-free audio solution. The National Federation of the Blind stands ready and willing to collaborate in this effort; indeed, we believe that the expertise of blind fans, gained through our lived experience, is critical to success. We are prepared to bring our expertise at the national level as well as our extensive network of state affiliates and local chapters (the fans attending these venues locally) to be part of the solution. I hope to talk with you soon about how we can work together.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter. We look forward to collaborating with you to create a future where all fans can experience the thrill of live sports together.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind