A blind student touches a tactile 1:750 scaled model of the Barra Olympic Park for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. GETTY IMAGES

Audio description, vibrating vests, and tactile tablets: these are just some of the solutions that will help fans with visual or hearing disabilities follow sports events along with the rest of the public in various stadiums of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Agence France-Presse reports.

"The ball is sent from the right, enters and leaves the zone [or "key"] and it is Monaco that recovers the ball. The zone is that rectangular part under the basket.” a voice describes to a blind spectator every play that happens at the Bercy Arena in the French capital through an earpiece. 

During French Cup basketball finals at the end of April, various blind fans were able to follow the games on the court through audio description. Equipped with a special device, they can thus listen to a sports commentator describing the actions while another voice completes the experience with elements of visual description; a spectator experience organised by Optic 2000 before the Olympic Games.

"We usually listen to the atmosphere, but we don't know why the public is shouting," says Sofiane Ahmad, 31, who thanks to this technological system has been able to enjoy rugby or football matches in the stadiums.

"That's how you feel the energy that is transmitted when the fans shout all together, you live in the moment," he says happily.

A shared "pleasure"

Usually, the Paris Saint-Germain fan follows his football club's matches on the radio, where the comments are more descriptive than on television. "I build in my head what is happening on the field," he says. 

Before losing his sight in a traffic accident when he was 19, he also played football. He now plays football adapted for people with vision impairments. This has allowed him to create a community with fans in the same situation and they often follow the games together, those who can see something do so on television and the blind do so on the radio: "It is a pleasure that we share."

Pierre-Marie Micheli, also blind since suffering an accident at the age of 25, especially enjoys experiencing rugby matches through audio description with his father. "I enjoyed it as much as when I saw it," says this 37-year-old man, who before his accident played rugby and went mountain biking.

He was also able to use a tactile tablet, with a magnet that moves at the same time as the ball during a rugby match. "I felt with my fingers, in real-time, the ball leaving the field. So I was able to shout at the same time as everyone else," he explains about this technological tool, which will also be used in the Olympic Games.

In an enthusiastic atmosphere, with chants and vuvuzelas at the Bercy Arena, Khaled Kharraz, who is deaf, enjoys basketball thanks to a vest that converts sounds into vibrations connected to his back.

A blind-deaf football fan follows the game with the help of an interpreter. GETTY IMAGES
A blind-deaf football fan follows the game with the help of an interpreter. GETTY IMAGES

"I feel everything" 

"I feel everything: the ball bouncing on the ground, the steps of the players moving, the crowd shouting when a basket is made. The vibrations are different, you just have to observe what happens to make the connection," he explains. "I'm totally in," he says, happy to be able to enjoy the game with a friend.

Still not very widespread, these devices are mainly used for football, tennis and Paralympic disciplines. The associations hope that the Olympic Games will serve to accelerate its general implementation.

Audio description will be available in Paris 2024 in six sports (football, athletics, judo, swimming, tennis, horse riding) and ten Paralympic disciplines in thirteen of the facilities, explained the Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games of the French capital.

"We will have 460 hours of audio description and we have targeted the sports that visual disability experts have told us are most interesting for them," Ludivine Munos, head of Paralympic integration in Paris-2024, explained to AFP.

The tactile tablet will be present in six event facilities, to be able to follow the football, rugby, basketball and four Paralympic ball sports competitions.