Andy Palmer: The inside story on the moving viral World Cup video of a deafblind Brazilian

Posted on June 24, 2014

Sign language expert Hélio Fonseca de Araújo, 33, found an innovative way to help his deaf and blind friend Carlos, 27, enjoy the opening match of the 2014 World Cup when hosts Brazil faced Croatia.

In the jaw-dropping online video that has been shared across the world last week (including here), Carlos is seen having his hand guided by Hélio as he feels a scale-model of a football pitch to gauge where the ball is during the match. That bit is pretty obvious, but what else is going to give Carlos as much information about the match as possible?

Even though he can’t hear or see the match, Carlos experiences the agony of Brazil going behind through an own-goal and then the ecstasy of victory as Brazil score three times against Croatia. And all without actually seeing or hearing a thing.

Able only to see shapes and outlines of objects, Carlos suffers from Usher syndrome which causes both hearing and sight loss. He was deaf from birth but also began losing his eyesight at the age of 14. He hadn’t been able to watch a football match for over two years and, as it was World Cup time in football-mad Brazil, that was a situation his friend Hélio wanted to do something about.

At the beginning of the video, thoughtful pal Hélio, who is a sign language teacher, can be seen visiting a DIY store to collect the materials to make a scale model of a football pitch, complete with miniature goals and raised lines so Carlos could feel the markings and the ball’s location on the pitch.


Carlos celebrates a Brazil goal

Then, come match time, the ingenuous model pitch is placed between them so Helio can guide his friends hands during the match and enable him to experience some World Cup drama.

“I had seen a tactile football field many years ago” Helio said.

“And one day before the game I was thinking about where Carlos would be during the match against Croatia. When I shared it the idea of doing something for Carlos with my wife, Regiane, she immediately agreed we had to do something to help him.

“We left home and went looking for the material to build the soccer field“

In the video, as well as tracking the path of the ball on the pitch, Carlos and Hélio communicate using ‘hands on’ sign language which allows a deafblind person to understand by feeling, rather than watching, sign language. Through this method, Hélio was able to explain some of the detail of what was going on in the match – but there’s even more to it.


Helio is well known in Brazil for interpreting on TV

Hélio continued, “Regiane, my wife, was using Haptic Communication, passing information like the number of players, pace of the game and yellow and red cards or fouls and the team that was in possession of the ball.” She was able do do this by making shapes using her hands on different places on Carlos’ back.

“I did hands on signing and guided Carlos’ hands to the movements of players and the direction or path of the ball.”

Even the explosion of passion during the crowd’s spine-tingling rendition of the Brazilian national anthem was conveyed to Carlos and shortly after he can be seen covering his face in despair when Croatia take an 11th minute lead. He agonises at near-misses and is soon banging the table with joy when Neymar equalises and then scores again. Carlos isn’t missing a thing.

Richard Kramer, the Deputy Chief Executive of Sense, a charity that supports deafblind people, says the video shows that with the right communication support, deafblind people can enjoy the things most might take granted; like watching football.

“The video is an excellent example of how the right communication support can enable deafblind people to enjoy some of the things that most of us take for granted, like watching a football match with your friends.” He said.

“It seems like Carlos, who appears to have some very limited sight, is receiving total communication support in a number of different ways – haptic communication, hands-on signing and a symbolic representation of the pitch.

brazil concede

And feels the agony of a Brazil own goal

“Haptic communication is where tactile signs are used to describe what is going on providing visual information through touch – this might be the pace of the game, descriptions of footballers.  Those signs can be anywhere on the body but usually on the back to provide a different contact point and an additional point for communication.”

There are around 250,000 deafblind people in the UK, most having lost their sight and hearing from birth or by ageing, illness, accident or rare syndromes.  Learning to communicate something like a football match to someone with deafblindness, as the video shows, takes imagination, effort and some training.

Richard continued: “Much like in the video of Carlos, many deafblind children need one-to-one or two-to-one support to learn about football or art or maths. Qualified teachers and trained intervenors that have specialist training in deafblindness can provide that support.

“The most important step is identifying a way of communicating that feels comfortable. In a sense that’s what’s happening with Carlos – his friends are doing a remarkable job interpreting the atmosphere of the game for him because they’ve have found a way to engage all of his senses and help him connect with the world.”

Although Hélio loves football, when he’s communicating the game to Carlos, he has to keep his own emotions in check.

“I cannot react too much during the game because the guide-interpreter is a very careful interpretation. But the biggest thrill was the reactions of Carlos. There were moments when he took my hand representing the soccer ball and tried to put it in the goal. The smile on his face was amazing!

Helio, Carlos, Regiane and Family

Helio, Carlos, Regiane and Family

“I cried when I watched the video back. The feeling of accomplishment was very strong!”

At the end of the video, Carlos, whose favourite player is Naymar, speaks directly to the camera in Brazilian sign language, also known as Libras.

“What Joy!” He said of the experience.

“This is the first time I’ve watched football for years. I could understand the game in detail along with all the joy and nervousness. What happiness I’m feeling now. I want everyone to share it with me.”

Due to work commitments, Hélio won’t be on hand for every world cup match but he has committed to Carlos be there for all of Brazil’s remaining fixtures. Like the rest of Brazil’s football-crazy population, Carlos will be hoping they make it all the way to the final so he can literally keep on feeling the magic of the world cup!

It’s Deafblind Awareness Week this week. Find out more.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. 

Andy is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teaches sign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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