Stand-up comic creates all-blind fantasy football league after losing his sight
Every morning during football season, Brian Fischler does what you do: stress-checks his fantasy teams. He runs the same scenarios you do: Do I start Stafford or Ryan? How many targets is Michael Thomas going to get this week? Can Zeke hold onto the ball for once?
He taps his phone like a TV analyst on election night, switching out players, ditching underperformers, and adding sleepers. Here’s what’s impressive, though: he does it all via assisted technology. Brian is blind, but with the help of tech, his iPhone, and the Yahoo Sports Fantasy app, he revels in the joy — and heartbreak — of fantasy sports just like anyone else.
“I miss so many things I’ve lost over the years,” says Brian, who went blind later in life from retinitis pigmentosa. “Movies. Playing sports. But at least with technology, I’m able to still play fantasy sports.”
The last thing he can remember being able to see clearly: the Yankees’ 2009 World Series championship. He’s now totally blind, with no usable vision. He can, say, tell when lights are on, or when the television is on, but he can’t see anything distinct.
Brian’s story is one of perseverance, determination … and fantasy football. A self-described sports junkie, he’s run the gamut of careers. A one-time Hollywood screenwriter — he once stepped on Charlize Theron’s foot at an Academy Awards red carpet — he’s also worked as a headhunter on Wall Street and enjoyed success as a stand-up comic.
“You only hear about the guys that move to Hollywood and hit it big,” he laughs. “You don’t hear about the ones where it doesn’t end well. It didn’t work out with my Hollywood dreams.”
He returned to New York, his vision already starting to fail. He’d done improv at New York’s Second City troupe, but — as he admits — improv is such a visually-guided art form, a teacher suggested he try stand-up comedy. It was a challenge — “Just because you’re funny at a party doesn’t mean you can be funny onstage” — but he kept at it, grinding away in front of open mic after open mic.
As his vision faded and he knew what lay ahead, he created a nonprofit foundation, Laugh For Sight, designed to raise funds and awareness for degenerative eye diseases. His annual benefit shows — held right up until COVID-19 closed off that option — included luminaries such as Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Gaffigan, and Sarah Silverman.
Standup comedy became his lifeline, his version of therapy. “For some people, therapy works for them,” Brian says. “For me, every time something insane happened in my life, it was, ‘Thank you, how’s that going into my act?’”
(Performing stand-up as a blind man has also led to some unintentionally hysterical moments. Once, he was onstage trying to perform while his guide dog was pulling him, again and again, off to the side. He couldn’t figure what was going on. Only later did a friend tell him an audience member was feeding the dog a steady stream of french fries.)
Listen to Brian’s full interview on the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast:
Brian’s blindness also forced him to find a new way to connect with the world. “I was living in Jamaica, Queens, in the middle of nowhere. Three freeways around me, and I couldn’t get anywhere,” he recalls. “I had a choice: I could sit in my apartment and stare at the wall and be pissed off, or I could learn technology.”
These days, he’s the host of “That Real Blind Tech Show,” a podcast that aims to help blind people navigate the world of assisted technology while studiously avoiding the use of the “A” word (“Alexa,” which sets off devices in the homes of blind people). In a regular segment entitled “What’s Pissing Brian Off,” he merrily-but-seriously rails against companies that fail to acknowledge the needs — and purchasing power — of blind people.
There’s a large market out there for products geared toward blind people, he says; blind consumers spend an estimated $8 billion a year. “Not spending money to make your apps isn’t just ethically wrong,” he says, “it doesn’t make business sense.”
But for Brian, it all comes back around to fantasy football. He’s in multiple leagues of every imaginable variant. He’s created a league exclusively for blind players, and it’s been so popular that he’s had calls to start a second league … but he has to stop somewhere.
“[Yahoo fantasy football is] the first app I check in the morning, the last app I check before bed,” he says. “I run up a lot of screen time, but who cares?”
The Yahoo Fantasy Sports app — which is available on desktop web and iOS and Android apps — is accessible because it provides built-in code support for people that use a variety of assistive technologies, including screen readers, external devices such as keyboards, and customizable large fonts and high color contrast. As a blind user, Brian uses the Voiceover screen reader on his iPhone, which reads aloud the content on his screen. So if he wants to, say, swap out his quarterback or add a player on the waiver wire, he knows where to double tap to make his selections because Voiceover will read aloud every part of the screen as he navigates using swipe gestures.
“It’s tremendous to me that Yahoo has everything accessible, from the draft to setting the lineup to picking players,” he says. “None of their competitors even care to make their apps accessible.”
Brian’s pleased with the advancements, both in technology and in acceptance by tech companies, on behalf of blind people. But he’d still like to see more accessibility upgrades in the future — interior GPS, for instance, to tell users what stores they’re walking past in a mall. Easy identification of already existing tech, like the buttons on an elevator, would be a welcome improvement as well. Regardless, though, he’s got his fantasy football, and that’s keeping him more than happy for now.
“There’s nothing more time-wasting than fantasy sports,” he laughs, “but God, is it a lot of fun.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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