Helping the blind ‘see’ football

Digi Footbraille

In February, I had the privilege of going for a ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ event where I learnt how hard it is for the blind or visually impaired to do ordinary stuff.

Visitors were led by blind guides in groups through specially constructed dark rooms in which scent, sound, wind, temperature and texture convey the characteristics of daily environments – for example, a park, a city or having a drink in a local stall.

It was a humbling experience as I learnt how people with disabilities face so many challenges for tasks I take for granted.

One thing I enjoy most is watching football but this is something the visually impaired are unable to do.

That is about to change thanks to Digi Telecommunications which has developed Footbraille, the first of its kind solution to help the visually impaired ‘see’ a football match.

The Footbraille prototype made its debut in the company’s national day video this year.

I had the chance to try out the prototype last week and it was if you pardon the phrase, an eye-opener.

Footbraille is a touch table which syncs wirelessly to a device with custom software that inputs the ball’s movement, and then creates a touch-based response allowing users to “feel” the match.

This experience is enhanced by a live match commentary to help users completely immerse themselves in the game.

Different materials are used to differentiate the areas of the pitch – centre circle, 18-yard box, the goal, the back of the goal and sidelines – so a blind person can instantly recognise where he or she is on the ‘pitch’. I could actually ‘see’ the action with my mind’s eye.

At the moment it is for recorded matches, but Digi plans to start live matches soon.

“This could be a world’s first where the blind can ‘see’ the match,” said Joachim Rajaram, Digi’s chief corporate affairs officer.

“This solution can be adapted for other types of sporting events and use cases – we should use the name Sportsbraille when that happens!”

Anwar Ishak, Digi’s Head of Digital IT, said it took Digi close to five months to perfect the prototype.

“We owe the national blind football team for their valuable input.”

“We built several prototypes, some of which were smaller but the players advised us to make it larger and to use different materials for separate sections of the pitch.”

He said the technology involved was readily available but Digi is the first company to combine them into one product to help the blind ‘see’ the game.”

The trial match used was Malaysia’s famous 2-1 victory over South Korea which helped the country qualify for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

National coach Sunny Shalesh was delighted with the outcome and even suggested it could be used for training purposes.

Sunny and three players who provided feedback to Digi – Azuan Abdul Rashid, Azril Che Ibrahim, Amirul Arif – had the chance to meet legendary Malaysian striker James Wong who scored the winning goal against South Korea 39 years ago.

Fight for Change 2019

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