The Beautiful Lives Project, co-founded by Weiler, examines how people with disabilities can be included in the sports community.
By Sheila Lam, she/her
In the era of activism, inclusivity is a crucial issue. Brands and influencers advocate for size, skin, and sexuality. Still, despite the many efforts made to make us more aware of the beautiful multiplicity of our humankind, the inclusivity of people with disabilities and protected characteristics are so often left out. People with sight or hearing loss, those who use a mobility aid, are neurodiverse, or many more, remain excluded from the conversation and community involvement. Bryce Weiler, the co-founder and advocacy officer of the Beautiful Lives Project, is out to change that.
Born four months premature, Weiler is blind. With a lifelong passion for sports, he develops programs for fans with disabilities and consults with companies to establish and run a comprehensive accessibility program. Being keenly aware of the obstacles that people with disabilities face every day, Weiler consults on everything from social media and making websites more accessible to creating budgets for purchasing the necessary accommodations for people with disabilities to working on giveback programs that support people who have disabilities.
In sports psychology, motivation has shown to be essential for athletes; it helps guide their unique talents and this is no different for Weiler. With a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management and Communication and a Master’s Degree in Sports Administration from Western Illinois University, motivation sets a steady state of self-determination, and Weiler is as intensely dedicated to his work as any athlete in the game. When I spoke to Weiler it was nine in the morning, and he had already been up and working for four hours.
To provide a more complete game experience, broadcasters produce riveting audio commentary and sign language interpretation for people with sight or hearing loss.
”Growing up, listening to sports on the radio was very important to me,” Weiler says. “Listening to Brian Barnhart and Don Fischer commentating on football and basketball, those broadcasters really created pictures in my head of the action taking place on the court or the field.” But, it doesn’t provide a way to participate in the game itself. The same level of access to experience should be given to everyone, and that’s where the Beautiful Lives Project comes in.
Co-founded by Weiler with Anthony Iacovone, the Beautiful Lives Project organizes around 35 events a year with over 1,500 participants across the United States. It has significantly contributed to advancing the accessibility of sports and sporting culture by examining how people with disabilities can be included in fan and player communities. But, more importantly, the Beautiful Lives Project helps break down the isolation individuals with special needs experience.
“One of the most important things about Beautiful Lives Project events is the friendships that can be created from the events,” Weiler says. “While it’s important to give people with disabilities the opportunity to experience programs and sports or art or perform with a dance team, those lifelong friendships will help them succeed in life and break down the barriers and stereotypes they face every day.”
One of the most straightforward things that organizers can consider when it comes to making their events inclusive is the availability of resources: interpreters, correct and clear signage, and even simply adding alt-text to social media posts provides a wealth of entryways for all people. Without these resources, it’s almost impossible for people with disabilities to feel welcome. To exclude them is to exclude 26% of adults in the United States. That accounts for 61 million adults or roughly one in four people who have some type of disability. If a person cannot move around a particular area, interpret the context of a game, or simply feel safe in the presence of others, how can they be considered a part of the sport? More than once during our conversation, Weiler points out how society generally neglects the needs of people with disabilities.
But all is not lost. The Beautiful Lives Project is a good and needed organization with Weiler behind it as its champion and engine (although he would never single himself out as such). At its most fundamental, the association shines the light on the subject, and just as it does with sports, it allows everyone to participate in the discussion. Education is the best way to illuminate a specific section of society, especially today in a multicultural, multi-sensorial world marked by discrimination and inequality. It enables all of us to consider the values we should add to experience and inclusivity.
Written by Sheila Lam for Youth To The People