Beep, beep, beep, crack!
While up at the plate, a blindfolded Kyle Borah hit a large ball into the outfield. Unlike most baseball games, the outfielders did not try to catch the ball. In fact, none of the other players could even see the ball. They, like Borah, also wore blindfolds.
Borah and a dozen other Webster students played a game called Beep baseball on October 10 in Webster’s quad. Beep baseball is played with blindfolds on all of the players (except the pitcher), a large beeping ball and large beeping pillars in first and third base positions on the field.
Borah, a math and computer science major, has been visually impaired most of his life. He has a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease which can cause severe visual impairment. Borah said he could read when he was in elementary school.
“I was one of the slower readers in class, but as I got older, I’ve lost vision and visual acuity,” Borah said.
While he can still distinguish color and shape for the most part, he lost his ability to see detail. For Borah, daily life became more of a challenge and he found himself unable to do a number of commonplace activities, including the ability to play sports.
That is where beep baseball comes in. Beep baseball was originally organized in 1976 for visually impaired people to play baseball. The game plays like regular baseball, but with a few key differences. For one thing, the ball makes a continuous beeping sound and players have to listen for it due to the blindfold.
Borah said he had been in a few programs geared toward helping him learn daily living skills. Through these programs, he also played sports games adapted to visual disabilities, like beep baseball.
“You get to really learn spatial awareness and be able to hear things and know where they are,” Borah said.
Cindy Yamnitz, Assistive Technology Program Coordinator at Webster, went up to bat with a blindfold on. Yamnitz hit a foul ball and said she was just happy she made contact with the ball.
“I really wanted to hit it, but you’re swinging at air,” Yamnitz said. “It was hard to swing and not know what I was swinging at. But I really wanted to get a hit.”
Unlike baseball, beep baseball has two bases instead of three. These bases look like large padded cylinders to make it easier for players to find them. They sit where first and third bases would be in regular baseball. When the batter hits the ball, one of the bases will make a loud buzz, prompting the hitter to run to it.
If the batter hits the ball and makes it to one of the bases, they score a run. If the batter gets four strikes, they are out. They can also be out if they hit the ball and one of the infielders catches it or picks it up it before the batter makes it to a base.
“I was afraid, if I did get a hit, about running,” Yamnitz said. “How do you run if you can’t see where you’re going. If I do hit it, how am I going to know where to go and what to do?”
Academic ADA Advisor Shelley Wolfmeyer, along with Multicultural and International Student Affairs (MCISA), brought the beep baseball demonstration to Webster through Mind’s Eye Radio for Disability Awareness Month.
The radio broadcasts out of Belleville, Illinois, and has spent all of its 44 plus years of existence offering resources to visually impaired and disabled people. It provides different kinds of services, from audio descriptions at visual performances to readings of national and local newspapers by volunteers.
Jason Frazier, Development Director at Mind’s Eye Radio, said he has been with the radio for over five years. Graduating with a mass communications degree, the radio’s mission statement is what drew him to the job.
“My grandmother was visually impaired from the time I was born to the time she passed away,” Frazier said. “She lost her vision to glaucoma. So the mission really appealed to me when I first got there, it was a very cool way to kind of reach out to people.”
Frazier said he organizes events and demonstrations, like a beep baseball tournament for the radio. He not only wants to make people aware of visual disabilities, but also wants to spread awareness of the services the station provides.
“I wanted to help make sure people knew about it,” Frazier said. “Reach out and make sure people take advantages of the services we offer.”
Borah said he was surprised at how easily people wanted to get involved and play beep baseball. Along with the dozen or so at the beginning of the game, groups of other students got involved after seeing the game being played.
“I’m just amazed by how many people, even though they were wary of it, just threw on the blindfold and tried it,” Borah said. “I was really happy with how all of the people were just really enthusiastic and wanted to try it out. It was really cool.”