Youth baseball league accused of bias
Representatives of a 10-year-old Kauai boy with a hearing disability have filed a complaint against a national baseball organization because he was not allowed to have an interpreter in the dugout during a state baseball tournament.
The National Association of the Deaf, in a complaint filed Monday with the U.S. Department of Justice against PONY Baseball/Softball, Inc., says baseball officials discriminated against Justin "Pono" Tokioka by not allowing him to have an interpreter during a state tournament held in Hilo five months ago, a violation of Title III of the American with Disabilities Act.
"This is the first time that I've seen a youth baseball organization say no to interpreter service from the local level all the way up to the chain of command," said attorney Marc Charmatz, who is representing Tokioka on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Beth Tokioka joined son Justin and her ex-husband James yesterday in discussing their PONY league complaint.
In July, Tokioka, who is deaf, participated in the PONY State Regional Mustang Tournament with the Lihue All-Star Mustang team.
About a half hour before the game, a Hawaii PONY Region State Director informed Tokioka's father, James, who serves as a qualified interpreter for Pono, that he could not interpret for his son in the dugout.
According to the complaint, "PONY's policy allows only three coaches inside the dugout and an interpreter to be near the dugout but not in it."
Tokioka's parents were told by officials that an interpreter in the dugout would be considered a fourth coach, which would be grounds for disqualifying the team.
"It was very, very frustrating and upsetting for us that it would be an issue in this day and age, with ADA compliance and all the things that involve access to people with disabilities," said James, who is also a member of the Kauai County Council. "I never thought it would be an issue and they made it a very big issue."
Tokioka's parents complained often to the PONY Baseball/Softball Inc., and had even proposed a change in PONY's rule book to distinguish a coach from an interpreter, said the boy's mother, Beth.
A rules committee board meeting held in October denied the proposal in a 4-1 vote. Beth said she was told by PONY officials that committee members clarified a rule to state that one of the three coaches in the dugout need to also serve as an interpreter.
"That's PONY's stance as we know it today, which is unacceptable to us," she said. An interpreter is not a coach and a coach is not an interpreter, Beth said.
"And a child like Pono should have access to his interpreter at all times. I would liken it to a child wearing glasses asked not wear his glasses during a tournament. It just doesn't make sense," Beth said.
Don Clawson Jr., director of baseball operations for PONY Baseball/Softball Inc., who voted in favor of Beth's proposal, said he did not see the complaint and would not comment.
"It was hard for me to understand the coaches' talking," said the young Tokioka, whose father was allowed to sit in a roped-off area 15 yards away from the dugout during the state tournament. He spoke to the press with the assistance of his father and Jan Fried, who interpreted for him during a news conference yesterday.
"He couldn't see me. I couldn't see him," his father said.
Since July, Tokioka has received widespread support from the community and abroad. Recently, James said his son received a personal letter from baseball star Cal Ripken Jr.
The Honolulu City Council also introduced a resolution urging the Department of Parks and Recreation to adopt rules that ensure accommodations for those with disabilities, and the Kauai County Council drafted a similar resolution.
U.S. Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye expressed their disappointment with PONY officials while praising Tokioka and describing him as a "true warrior."
"Fifteen years ago, Congress passed the American with Disabilities Act to tear down the barriers of ignorance and indifference that face millions of our citizens, our friends and family members, everyday. We've come a long way, but as Pono can tell you, we have more to go," Akaka said in a written statement.