NEW BRITAIN - Bryce Weiler knows what itâ€™s like to experience the world without seeing it.
Blind since birth, Weiler has a rare eye condition known as retinopathy of prematurity, which causes abnormal blood vessels to grow in the retinas of premature infants.
But that never stopped him from developing his passion for sports and sharing it with others.
During his time at the University of Evansville, where he earned a bachelorâ€™s degree in sports management and communication, Weiler began commentating different sports on the radio. It was after he received his masterâ€™s degree in sports administration at Western Illinois University, however, that Weiler turned his attention to helping other sports fans with disabilities.
Weiler co-founded a nonprofit called The Beautiful Lives Project, where he works with sports teams and communities to improve their programs for disabled fans. Programs often include different areas such as athletics, performing arts, visual arts, nature and wellness. They also work with communities to remove obstacles and impediments from facilities and make them more accessible for every person.
The first team to join him in his work was the Baltimore Orioles. The New Britain Bees joined last year with three others - the Evansville Otters, York Revolution and Utica Blue Sox - taking part as well.
â€śI started doing programs for fans who are disabled with the Baltimore Orioles in 2016,â€ť Weiler said. â€śSince that point, I have helped expand the number of fans who are disabled that attend Orioles games, made Camden Yards and [their spring training venue] Ed Smith Stadium more accessible for all disabled groups. Most of the same things I have done with the New Britain Bees.â€ť
At New Britain Stadium, all of the Bees-owned concession stand menus are in Braille. The menus come in two formats, one that uses the Braille contractions and a second copy that does not use the contractions in case a person does not know them. They also offer noise cancelling headphones for those patrons who cannot deal with the noise.
â€śThe most important things are for sports leagues to create standards for what each team must do in the stadium for all disabled fans of any disability,â€ť Weiler said. â€śThis would hold the team to a standard of conduct instead of letting a team do whatever they want. These standards would be harder to enforce for the Beesâ€™ league, the Atlantic League, where teams do not have as much money, but easier for leagues such as the MLB, NFL and NBA.â€ť
In upcoming weeks, Weiler will have disabled fans playing on the New Britain Stadium field with the Bees for â€śField of Dreamsâ€ť sessions. On July 13, July 14, July 21 and July 24, players from New Britain and opposing teams will be playing alongside the fans, who will get the chance to hit, play catch and run the bases.
As the foundation continues to grow, Weiler expects the programs that help those that need them will too.
â€śI do not necessarily have an end goal for the programs,â€ť Weiler said. â€śI would like to do as many things to help the lives of those who are disabled to be able to enjoy whatever they would like besides sports. We are doing programs where disabled people can be able to play musical instruments with a band or singer before a concert or event, anything people want to experience, I can organize these programs for them.â€ť
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org