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March 29, 2024

In a first for pro sports, Portland Sea Dogs team with mobile app for visually impaired baseball fans

Sea Dogs action shot Photo / Jim Neuger The Portland Sea Dogs aim to make games at Hadlock Field more accessible for visually impaired fans via an app called Aira.

To make baseball games more accessible and enjoyable for visually impaired fans, the Portland Sea Dogs are teaming with a mobile app that provides visual interpreting services.

Aira, a San Francisco-based app that offers on-demand, remote visual interpretation for the blind and low-vision community, will be available at Hadlock Field for all home games.

"While the service has been used by thousands of sports fans, it's the first time a professional sports team is making this kind of service available at their stadium," Kevin Phelan, Aira's Maine-based chief revenue officer, told Mainebiz. "This partnership will create the first accessible baseball stadium in the world."

He described the app as combining the best of artificial intelligence and the human IQ.

App users will be able to use the tool to navigate their way around the 7,400-seat stadium, including finding the shortest line for food or the location of the nearest restroom, Phelan said.

"The goal is to give the community access to information for any physical or digital space on their own terms," he said.

The interpreters available through the app won't be doing play-by-play, since that's handled via a radio feed.

What sparked the partnership

Chris Cameron, vice president for communications and fan experience for the Sea Dogs, said the seed for the partnership started with an inquiry from Aira from about tickets and sponsorship.

"Upon learning of their services, our discussions turned to making this a partnership to offer their services to our fans," he said. Cameron also noted that while it's tough to know for sure how many visually impaired fans attend each game, there are a couple of season ticket holders.

"Additionally, with the Iris Network as our neighbor, they often have residents and clients attending a game, so I think it's safe to say that at every game there are several fans that are blind or have low-vision attending," he said.

Fans will have their first chance to use the app on Friday, April 5, at Hadlock Field, when the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox will host the Hartford (Conn.) Yard Goats to open the season.

“We strive to make Hadlock Field accessible to all our fans,” said Sea Dogs President and General Manager Geoff Iacuessa. “This partnership with Aira will help us make Hadlock Field even more friendly and accessible to our fans who are blind or have low vision.”

The app will be available free of charge on both iOS and Android devices for all blind and low-vision visitors to Hadlock.

Once the app has been downloaded, the user’s phone camera will stream a live video to one of Aira’s visual interpreters, who can help users navigate their way around Hadlock, answer their questions around the ballpark, and experience every detail of the game more fully.

Mainers can already use Aira for free at TD Bank, Target, Starbucks, Bank of America and other companies, Phelan said. Aira, which is privately held, was founded in 2015.

Jenny Kordick, executive director of Maine Outdoor Brands, welcomed the move Portland’s baseball team to make the outdoor spectator sport more accessible.

“The Sea Dogs should be commended for offering innovative solutions to make their events more accessible to individuals with disabilities," she told Mainebiz. "These efforts underscore the importance of recognizing and addressing the diverse needs of all fans, regardless of their abilities, and set an example for others to follow to make the outdoors and recreation in Maine more accessible.”

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