When my dad and I went to Louisville, Kentucky, we decided to go to one of the horse races at Churchill Downs, as I was interested to see how people with vision impairments could go to horse races. After experimenting with assistive technology, I was able to find several options for viewing the races and finding information. Today I will be sharing different ways that people with vision impairments can watch horse races alongside their sighted friends.
I bought tickets for the race from the Ticketmaster app on my Android phone, which supported large print and Select-to-Speak with ease. There were options for physical accessibility seating, but nothing for vision impairment, which is to be expected since many places, especially sporting events, do not offer special seating (some political events do though- read more about political event accessibility here). It took about three minutes to buy tickets from the app, and the entire process was very easy- we were able to do it while waiting for lunch. Read more about Android accessibility settings for vision impairment here.
Since we did not have a car in Louisville, we decided to take an Uber to Churchill Downs. Once we got there, we walked through the gate and checked in at the registration desk. Security then escorted us to where we would be sitting, and made sure we got there safely. It helps that we got there about an hour early and missed the rush of crowds.
If possible, request an accessible program
While this option was not available at the race we attended, many horse races have large print or accessible programs for guests that have trouble reading standard print. It never hurts to ask if there is an accessible program available, as the worst people can say is no. If there is no accessible program, users can use the Microsoft Office Lens app to scan in pages of a standard print program and have it read out loud- read more about Microsoft Office Lens here. Users can also use Microsoft's Seeing AI app, but I prefer to use Office Lens because I like to have a copy of the document- read more about Seeing AI here.
Download the track's app
Some racetracks, Churchill Downs included, have a dedicated app that provides information about races and horses for guests. Notes about races are also added so people can read descriptions as needed, or listen to race audio live. Not all apps are accessible, but it's worth checking out- read more about app accessibility for vision impairment here.
Check QR codes
My dad's program for the races had several QR codes throughout that people could scan to read more about the horses in a web browser. This worked out very well for me because I was able to enlarge the font easily and see all of the same information my dad was seeing. I use the app Google Assistant to scan QR codes- read more about Google Assistant here.
Aira smart glasses allow me to have a human guide wherever I go, and I decided to test out Aira for a couple of the races. Since we were standing fairly far away, about a third of the track was obscured and it was hard to tell which way the horses were going as they were on the back side of the track. Aira was able to see the finish line though, and described the close finish between two of the horses with ease. Read more about Aira here.
Listen to audio description
The race is narrated in real time by announcers who describe the horses' placement in the race, movement, and sometimes include additional features like unique markings and color. Several audio cues are also used before and after the race to signal things like the start time. Read more about audio description here.
Looking at horse descriptions
For a couple of the horses, my dad would give me the type of horse listed so I could look up more information about them within the race app. I decided to also run a web search for the horse breed and color so I could get an idea of what the horse looked like, which helped a lot. Often times, these images have alt text and can describe what the horse looks like for people with vision impairments. Read more about alt text and why it matters here.
Watch live video on your phone
Some races also have live streams of races available for people to watch, which I discovered by running a web search for my desired race. I was able to pull up a different race fairly quickly and stream it in high definition. This would be helpful for someone who has trouble seeing distance but still wants to be in the fun atmosphere. Wondering why high definition matters for vision impairment? Read more about why high resolution images are important here.
Horse races are certainly a unique experience, and there's no reason that people with vision impairments should be left out of the fun of attending one. With assistive technology, watching horse races can be a fun and entertaining way to spend an afternoon with family and friends.