Rodeo Vision: Attendees Experience Arena Event with Other Senses

from the Mesquite News by Kenny Green

Blind People Take in the Mesquite Championship Rodeo

Texas resident and American Council of the Blind tour participant Patrick Sturdivant tries out the mechanical bull at Mesquite Arena.
Caption: Texas resident and American Council of the Blind tour participant Patrick Sturdivant tries out the mechanical bull at Mesquite Arena.
 
Brother Van Montgomery, left, serves rodeo attendees from the American Council of the Blind barbecue Saturday at Mesquite Arena.
Caption: Brother Van Montgomery, left, serves rodeo attendees from the American Council of the Blind barbecue Saturday at Mesquite Arena.
 
Texas resident and American Council of the Blind tour participant Patrick Sturdivant tries out the mechanical bull at Mesquite Arena.
Caption: Texas resident and American Council of the Blind tour participant Patrick Sturdivant tries out the mechanical bull at Mesquite Arena.
 
American Council of the Blind tour participants Sheryl and Paul Hunt, and their guide dogs, get help from Mesquite Arena staff to find their seats Saturday.
Caption: American Council of the Blind tour participants Sheryl and Paul Hunt, and their guide dogs, get help from Mesquite Arena staff to find their seats Saturday.
 
For many, watching a sporting event has become a weekend tradition, a reason to go out for a night. But for a group of about 60 patrons at the Mesquite Rodeo on Saturday night, seeing wasn’t an option.

A group from the American Council of the Blind (ACB) Conference in Dallas made the journey to Mesquite to experience their first rodeo. The trip was organized as one of the tours offered to the weeklong conference attendees.

“Last fall we came out and did some scouting as to what Texas has as far as accessible venues. One of the things we knew wanted to do was Texas rodeo,” said Michael Fulghum, who has been organizing tours for ACB since 2010. “They want to experience things that you and I do but sometimes take for granted; they just want it accessible.”
The ACB’s Dallas chapter helped coordinate the tour with the staff at Mesquite Arena.

“We just basically got with Brother Van [Montgomery] and told him what we wanted to do and he made it happen on his end. We knew we wanted to audio describe it for our folks so they could get the most out of it,” Fulghum said. “By being here they get to see it, experience it, smell it and hear the noise.”

Van, who works with group sales at the arena, said he was contacted by the local chapter in February about arranging the tour.

“I have been here for four seasons and this is the first time I have had a group this large of blind people. We wanted to make sure we take care of their needs and they have a safe time,” he said. “We are family-friendly and we can accommodate any kind of group.”

For the many of the ACB attendees, the rodeo experience was their first time around horses or the first time they had the chance to feel what a bull looks like, thanks to the photo and mechanical bulls at the arena.

“This experience was offered as one of the tours. I had never been to a rodeo, so thought I’d try it. I have been around horses before at the track and carnivals,” said Martin Kuhn, an ACB attendee from Philadelphia.

The tour was the first time ACB has attempted to do a rodeo as part of its offerings.

“Most of the audio descriptions we do are movies or live plays. It really is the same thing, since you are describing the action that you and I see, and painting that picture in their heads so they can piece it all together,” Fulghum said.

The person painting that picture in Mesquite was Joel Snyder, an audio describer who does contract work for ACB. Snyder has been audio describing since 1981, when audio describing formally originated. He uses a FM radio system to convey his descriptions to those he serves.

“I had always been involved in radio and theater and was involved with reading newspapers and books for blind through Washington Ear, the group began regular audio description service. I was working with them since 1972 and I was one of four or five selected to begin doing it,” Snyder said.

Snyder has audio described all kinds of events includes weddings, funerals, plays and sport events but this was his first time to do a rodeo as well. He said the key to making the experience a good one for blind and impaired-vision attendees was to try to sense when the arena announcer was done and insert a phrase or two to enhance their description.
He tries to describe the attire of the cowboys and animals and the rest of the rodeo’s rich visual images.

“I use a technique for making visual verbal by using succinct phrases to describe the images,” he said.