Carlos Junior does not watch or listen to soccer games the way most soccer fans do. Instead, the 31-year-old massage therapist who is deaf and blind experiences the game with the help of interpreters using touch communication and a model soccer field to recount the passes, goals and fouls of his favorite team.
Junior’s love of soccer and his way of following the World Cup moved many in Latin America’s largest nation after a friend posted a video of him keeping up with Brazil’s group game against Costa Rica. The video caught the attention of international media and has been shared and seen by millions online.
“The moment you do this, you show that a deaf and blind person is the same as any other person,” Junior, who communicates with tactile sign language, said of the video and its wide viewership.
In one game, Junior and a handful of other people with sight and hearing losses gathered at a cultural centre in Sao Paulo to follow the game with the help of interpreters.
Junior has Usher syndrome, which causes hearing and vision problems. While born deaf, he was able to see as a child and even played goalkeeper on a team for deaf youth. At 14, his vision began to deteriorate, and he was fully blind by 23. He continued to cheer for his beloved Sao Paulo with the help of his father.
“Before my dad would take my hand and say, ‘Ehh! Look there! A goal! A goal!’ But information was missing,” Junior said. “I wanted to know if the ball hit the crossbar, what side was it on, the right side or the left side.”
It was then that Helio Fonseca de Araujo, who is a sign language interpreter, proposed the idea of using a model field. De Araujo had seen Maria Stella Nunes speak once about the field she built for her husband, who is deaf and has low vision and had asked for the model. Nunes interpreted Monday’s game for her husband, Carlos Roberto Lopes Nunes, at the same cultural centre where Junior followed the game.
Araujo then improved upon the original idea, building a bigger field and adding in the idea of using a second interpreter to give even more game information in real time.
The system they have developed is this: Junior places his hands on the interpreter’s. One hand represents the ball, the other the player who has possession. The interpreter moves his hands around the model field to indicate the action. Meanwhile, another interpreter draws on Junior’s back, communicating which team and even which player (by tracing the player’s number) has the ball. Through his haptic, or touch, communication, the interpreter can also note fouls, yellow or red cards, blocks and saves.
During the regular season, Junior often makes do by following games via text summaries posted online that a device translates into Braille for him. But for major games, he calls on de Araujo and others like him. The technique is so good that Junior even knew in previous games when Neymar fell down, or when Brazil coach Tite hurt himself while celebrating the team’s win over Costa Rica.
“Even though they deaf and blind people don’t have access to lots of information, that doesn’t hinder their lives,” de Araujo said. “If society adapts to them, they can live normally.”