Blind Baseball Fan Hits Homerun with Website Accessibility

Brian Charlson is a big Red Sox fan. He loves going to the games and listening to the play by play when he can’t make them. Accessing the stats, however, proved to be very difficult for him due to his blindness. Now, having been urged by Brian and blindness advocates, this week the MLB has added accessibility options to all of its websites in order to make the information entirely available to the blind community.

Brian always felt that baseball, perhaps more than other sports, appeals to blind people because of the relative simplicity of the events involved in the game. “It’s a sport where the play by play can make sense to a blind person. You’ve only got the pitcher, batter and fielder. With only three people to keep track of at any one time, it is a lot easier to keep track of than say, football,” he said.

Brian and another visually impaired friend of his had gone on a trip to see eight baseball games in six cities. They had made all of the plans over the internet, like buying tickets and reserving hotel rooms, and if they were stuck, resorted to making phone calls to clear up any last minute loose ends. What bothered them, though, was that they really couldn’t access any of the material on the MLB sites so they could study the stats of the different teams they were going to visit.

As many of you know, screen readers dictate everything on the page, even the underlying code of pictures and advertisements, which can make the internet a confusing mess. With the MLB, their site was filled with sponsors’ advertisements, videos, and game pictures that created a labyrinth for them to work through. The site was unfortunately quite useless to them.

With the help of other blindness advocacy organizations, Brian approached the MLB and, to his surprise, they were not only eager to help him, but made it a priority and worked very quickly to find a solution. ‘‘We’ve never experienced that, where we didn’t have to hold someone’s toes to the fire,” he said.

Now, the MLB site has what is called a zero pixel gif that is virtually invisible to sighted people using the site, but that is detected by screen readers instantly upon access. The feature is inaccessible to point and click users, but his screen reader recognizes it as a link and allows him access to content specifically formatted for screen readers. This feature offers full navigation of all the material on the site to blind fans without the need to significantly alter the site that sighted users visit. Its simplicity is a thing of beauty, really. Brian now feels that the MLB has made a huge leap, not just in making their own site accessible to blind users, but by showing other companies and organizations that the same can be done without costly modification to their existing setups.

Because of the MLB’s willingness to help out Brian, he was successfully able to vote for the All-Star game for the first time. Next year, he’s going to approach the NFL in hopes they’ll be equally willing to help out.

Good luck, Brian. We wish you the best.

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