Sports arenas

Islanders fan Gary Noll advocates for closed captioning in sports arenas


Builders of UBS Arena tout cutting-edge, state-of-the-art design for the Islanders’ new billion dollar home in Belmont Park, scheduled to open in November 2021. Everything from concessions without contact to ventilation systems to dashboards is considered the most modern technology.

Onsite captioning will also be available, with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requiring stadiums and arenas to be accessible to people with disabilities, including communications access for the deaf and hard of hearing.

It is this technological aspect that most intrigued Gary Noll, a member of the Islanders Booster Club, a scientist by trade.

“My captioned advocacy project is like my science project at work, focused on collaboration, collaboration, and substantiating efforts,” Noll, who lives in Wood-Ridge, NJ, said in a lengthy exchange. of emails with Newsday.

Born deaf to deaf parents, Noll wants islanders to set up the most visible captioning system possible. The tireless effort mirrors others he has led – and continues to lead – at all of the major professional and college sports venues in the New York / New Jersey area.

“It is entering a market that has never really been tapped before,” said Gary Harding of Halesite, former president and current executive vice-president of Islanders Booster Club and co-host of Sports Talk New York on WGBB-1240AM /95.9 FM. “From the minute I met him, from the minute he emailed me, he’s still talking about it.”

The National Association of the Deaf did not find getting adequate captioning an easy battle despite the ADA’s mandate. But successful lawsuits against the Washington football team, filed in 2006 and finalized in 2011; Ohio State University, filed in 2009 and settled in 2010, and the University of Maryland, filed in 2013 and settled in 2016, have set precedents while creating greater awareness of the issue.

“The vast majority of sports stadiums and arenas do not have access to closed captioning for deaf and hard of hearing fans to understand play-by-play storytelling, color commentary, team or team giveaways. other promotions, pre-game anthems and activities, emergency notifications and all other announcements that occur before, during and after games, ”said Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of NAD. Such a failure is a complete denial of access to all deaf and hard of hearing people. Additionally, many people who can hear us often tell us that they would like to see captions to capture what they may have missed or been distorted by the ad system.

“The optimal way to make a stadium or arena accessible is to make sure there is large captioning visible to a fan seated in any seat,” Rosenblum added. “Unfortunately, most stadiums or arenas that have caption panels only have one or maybe two and they are too small to be seen comfortably unless the fan is seated very close to it. ‘One. Two.”

Still, the affable and gregarious Noll found that organizations were gradually becoming more open to his advocacy, even though closed captioning is not often something high on the agenda.

“When the technology becomes available, I advocate more,” he said. “I think the challenge is finding the right people. The key is patience. I have been to many games each calendar year. I have stopped at customer service and other departments. They have been so nice to me introducing myself to others, recommended names for I always ask for a better fan experience, better accessibility and for everyone to benefit by having closed captions for those who can and cannot hear .

“I think when I started my advocacy it was a little more difficult.”

The NAD is compiling data on all sports venues to determine their accessibility to deaf and hard of hearing fans and is expected to release a building ranking within the next year. UBS Arena may not be on the roster, given its scheduled opening date and the fact that the Islanders are not expected to sign a contract with a closed caption provider until this spring.

But Noll explained to both Newsday and the Islanders how he would design it.

In part, he argues for “big captions” and closed captions placed on four tape boards or dashboards, just as he insists that captioning be on the main center-field dashboard. of Citi Field rather than on the small left and right field tables.

He added that the sites should provide closed captioning on both dashboards and via portable devices. Many sites will provide closed captioning only on portable devices that can be borrowed from the site or through a person’s cell phone. But Noll said it was difficult to keep an eye on the screen while watching the live action, let alone holding a drink or food.

Noll also passed on his recommendations on closed captioning providers.

One is VITAC, which has offices in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Canada, has been in business since the early 1980s and is the largest in the United States with up to 500 captioners. Another is North Carolina-based Coast 2 Coast Captioning with its only full-time employee, founder Jennifer M. Bonfilio, who trained as a court reporter.

The captioning technology is quite simple. The site’s sound stream is transmitted to a remote stenographer via a computer application and the resulting transcript is re-transmitted to the stadium or arena with a three to five second delay.

“One hundred percent, he’s grown,” said Debbie Restall, Vitac’s vice president of sales, of the closed captioning industry. “With the rules now, that becomes the new normal. Some leagues have their own app that included closed captioning on the team page. It goes through a smartphone or mobile device.”

“The changes I have seen are all positive when it comes to the inclusion of deaf and hard of hearing people. Now it seems there are more and more businesses, businesses and teams that want to be acceptable to people. ”

Bonfilio worked as an on-site captioner at Yankee Stadium when the new baseball stadium opened in 2009. It was a one-season job secured through a recommendation from a friend who was captioning for the Washington Nationals.

“At that time it was very unusual,” Bonfilio said. “With the Yankees, I’ve been involved every step of the way: ‘We have to put the legends here, they have to be this size.’ You can give your opinion, but then they do whatever they want.

“[Scoreboard] ribbons are highly sought after real estate. They are required to have it, but the requirement does not specify the details. Ideally, you want the captions to be on the big board and those decisions to be more influenced by the audience.

“Someone like Gary is very vocal, outspoken, and he relates to these people and he can say, ‘Oh, no, that’s not good enough. “”


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