Around two million people in the UK have a visual impairment affecting all aspects of their everyday lives. A group of volunteers at United helps to enhance the match day experience with an audio description service enabling blind and partially-sighted supporters to attend matches at the Abbey with their friends and family and to listen to a specially-tailored commentary via a small hand-held receiver.
Cambridge United is rightly proud of its work in the local community and is well known for the efforts it makes to promote diversity and equality in the way it conducts its business. Both CFU and the club itself have been vocal in the campaign against racism and in their support and fundraising initiatives for United fan Simon Dobbin. The work we do to improve the match day experience for blind and partially-sighted fans is a key part of that community action.
The service the audio description team provides gives its audience a detailed description of the action. Blind and partially-sighted fans can enjoy the match day experience live at the ground by hearing a description of what they can’t see, so it’s much more detailed than a radio commentary and faster-paced. An added spatial emphasis means we focus on where the ball is and where the players are, so listeners at the game can match what they hear in the ground with a descriptive commentary, but without distractions.
The service is free for users and relies on the goodwill and generosity of its volunteers and their friends to cover the maintenance and running costs of the equipment. The kit we use can be expensive to replace. Each single receiver costs over £240 to replace. Until now, maintenance expenses have amounted to little more than an annual service and a handful of new capacitors and we are fortunate that United fan and Member of Parliament for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner has become our patron and has kindly helped with replacement costs.
Fewer than half of English professional clubs currently offer audio description but, as with many volunteer-based free-to-use services, new people are always needed to ensure it reaches its small but appreciative audience. We have a core of trained volunteers, with new trainees – including some young and fearless ones – regularly making the step-up to become stand-alone describers.
To ensure we can keep the service going, we are always looking to train new describers as well as sighted guides.
If you are interested in being involved in providing the service, or if you know someone who might like to use it, come and see us at the CFU caravan on a match day or contact our co-ordinator Nick Parker on 07929 589925 or at email@example.com to find out more.
Photo: Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner with service user Chris and audio describers Mike Barnes and Neil Cornwell