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Facebook video sparks bright change for deaf college swimmers

deaf and hard of hearing swimmers

Deaf and hard-of-hearing college swimmers will soon have the chance to compete with the same advantages of their peers, thanks to a new system inspired by one swimmer’s Facebook video. 

The “Reaction Lights System,” approved recently by the NCAA, will give visual cues to athletes with a series of lights, allowing deaf and hard-of-hearing swimmers to know when a race begins.

Swimming with hearing loss

Faye Frez-Albrecht, a deaf and legally blind swimmer at Gallaudet University, helped lead the change to the starting system, after facing many accessibility issues at her swim meets.

The debate began in February 2016, when she shared her experiences at the NEAC Championship on Facebook. 

In the video, Faze explained she was disqualified from the meet because she missed one of her events, due to not knowing what was going on. There was no interpreter, captioning or a card provided, she said. Even after explaining what had happened to the referee she was still told she couldn’t participate.

Of course, I was upset,” she says in her Facebook post. “I worked hard for a long time, with a lot of practice that I sacrificed my time and energy as I gave up many other things because swimming is my passion. Imagine being a student/athlete, it’s tough. So, we want to change that. I want to add better communication.”

Creating a better system for all

As a result of Faye’s video, the Colorado Time Systems, a company specializing in aquatic timing, scoring and display systems, began working on a better system to assist swimmers with hearing loss. 

The “Reaction Lights System” was tested with Gallaudet’s swim team  and approved by the NCAA on June 13. 

The lights glow in sequence, almost rhythmic as they cycle through,” according to USA Today Sports. “Blinking red flashes and then a steady red accompany the ‘on the block’ command. Blue illuminates to tell swimmers to ‘take their mark.’ Green means go — and that is triggered by the pool’s starting system.”

At first, meets with deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes will use the system, but there is hope for all swimmers to use the system at their swimming meets as well.

“Really, I never dreamed that I would have a video that went viral, that my picture would be out there and I would be known for something like this, especially me as somebody who is involved in the deaf community,” Faye told USA Today. “I just didn’t expect that. I wasn’t planning for it. It just happened.”

Learn more about how the light system works by watching this video:

Author Details
Kirsten is the managing editor of Hearing Like Me. She has a moderate hearing loss and currently wears Phonak Audéo B-R rechargeable hearing aids. Outside of working for Hearing Like Me, she can be found exploring new cities, trying out new recipes in her kitchen, or hiking. She loves learning about different cultures and languages.