British Columbia

Blind, partly blind Blue Jays fans upset with call to replace radio broadcasts with TV simulcast

A number of blind and partly blind Toronto Blue Jays fans are upset to lose a dedicated radio broadcast of upcoming games, after a decision by Sportsnet to simulcast the 2021 season.

Sportsnet's decision is 'letting down a group of fans who've relied on radio for a long time,' says one fan

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, centre, and shortstop Bo Bichette, right, celebrate a win in September. Radio listeners will hear Sportsnet's TV feed of the game  (Adrian Kraus/The Associated Press)

A number of blind and partly blind Toronto Blue Jays fans are upset over a recent decision to drop dedicated radio broadcasts of the team's games in favour of simulcasting the TV broadcast in the upcoming season.

Starting opening day, April 1, radio listeners will hear Sportsnet's TV feed of the game instead of a more descriptive traditional radio broadcast with dedicated announcers and play-by-play hosts.

It's a move that isn't sitting well with some blind and partly blind fans who say it will greatly affect their listening enjoyment.

"You are letting down a group of fans who've relied on radio for a long time," said Peter Field, a Blue Jays fan from Vancouver who has been blind since he was a teen.

Field, 59, says blind listeners require more detailed descriptions of the action on the field, which radio broadcasts have provided and a TV simulcast cannot.

"It's sort of a workaround ... saying that's going to satisfy all the fans," he said of the decision made public by Sportsnet Media late last month. "It's not going to. It's totally different."

Sportsnet, which is owned by Rogers Sports and Media, said the decision was a way to minimize travel for its staff during the pandemic and to streamline production.

In an emailed statement to CBC News on Monday, Sportsnet reiterated its decision. 

"The health and safety of our crew and commentators remains our No. 1 priority," wrote Sportsnet communications manager Jason Jackson.

Field, who lost his vision to glaucoma, hopes Sportsnet will reconsider the move.

"Either revise the radio for people who appreciate the game that way, or call the simulcast differently so you can bring in that audience," he said.

Blue Jays fan Dean Steacey of Gatineau, Que., who is also blind, says organizations are expected to reduce barriers for blind fans, not create new ones. 

"This move flies in the face of the Accessible Canada Act and will have a disproportionately negative impact on blind fans," Steacey said.

An estimated 1.5 million people identify as having a sight loss in Canada, according to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. The group's president says the decision to simulcast the games will annoy all fans, whether they're tuning into the game on radio or TV.

"We blind Canadians will miss out on some of the uniquely 'radio' content, and sighted TV watchers will have to put up with more in-game explanations they don't need," said Marcia Yale.

With files from Chad Pawson

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