All sports leagues should accommodate disabled players
The PONY baseball league has settled a lawsuit over its denial of sign-language interpretation for a Kauai boy.
ERRORS get no more grievous than the muff committed by PONY baseball league last year
in denying a 10-year-old deaf Kauai boy sign-language interpreting help from his father during a state tournament. The settlement of a lawsuit brought by the National Association of the Deaf should signal to all athletic organizations that their rules must protect the disabled.
PONY is an acronym for Protect Our Nation's Youth, but that message fell on deaf ears when the league barred James Tokioka from the dugout. Tokioka had sought to help his son Justin, who can detect slight sound only with the help of an electronic implant in his right ear. Implementation of the constricted rule violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Justin, nicknamed Pono, was on the Lihue all-star team that played in the state championships in Hilo in July 2005. The barring of help from his father, a qualified sign-language interpreter and Kauai county councilman, went unnoticed until the lawsuit was filed last December, when the nationwide uproar became loud and clear.
The league rules prohibited more than three adults in the dugout on the presumption that they are coaches. Justin's parents had proposed a change in the rule book to distinguish an interpreter from a coach but a rules committee denied the proposal by a 4-1 vote. Why the local league neglected to ensure that one of the three coaches -- perhaps the boy's father -- knew sign language is inexplicable.
All four county councils responded by urging the parks and recreation departments to establish policies that require sports organizations and leagues that use city parks to adopt rules ensuring reasonable accommodations to disabled participants. Anything less than that would jeopardize federal subsidies.
Settlement of the lawsuit provides that PONY allow and provide sign-language interpreters for deaf or hard-of-hearing players during games, allow disabled children an equal opportunity to play, educate its board of directors about the federal disabilities law, create a disabilities coordinator to ensure compliance with the law and pay the Tokiokas $30,000 in compensation.
The payment was in lieu of the league's refusal to apologize to the family, perhaps because the admission could be used in court if no settlement had been reached. The Justice Department has found that PONY violated the disabilities law, and an apology is in order now because of the settlement.
Pono decided after last year that he would not play baseball this year, but his teammates urged him to take the field. Beth Tokioka, was allowed in the dugout as an interpreter in last month's state tournament for 11- and 12-year-olds in Lihue, where Pono batted 1-for-2 and scored a run.
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