More Line Up To Support Deaf Ball Player
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 8, 2005
LIHUE, HAWAII--The National Center of the Deaf Law Center has filed a federal complaint on behalf of the parents of Justin Kapono "Pono" Tokioka with the U.S. Department of Justice against PONY Baseball/Softball, Inc.. The complaint alleges that the organization is discriminating against the 10-year-old under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by denying him access to a sign language interpreter.
Pono had been playing on the Kauai league with his father, Jimmy, in the dugout interpreting instructions from team coaches. But when it came time for the state tournament, the Tokiokas were told his father amounted to an extra coach in the dugout, in violation of PONY rules.
The family has argued that Pono's father acts only as an interpreter. They have offered for the mother to interpret, and have suggested that the league come up with a separate interpreter. Other teams in the league had no problem with Jimmy Tokioka in the dugout.
The national organization, however, refuses to allow any 'extra' adults in the dugout.
"All we want is for PONY to acknowledge, clearly and without question, that kids with disabilities will be accepted and will have access to accommodations to which they are legally entitled," Jimmy told the Garden Island News.
"Unless PONY acknowledges that an interpreter is not a coach, then deaf children all over the nation can be denied access to communication -- and we're not going to let this happen again to Pono or any other child."
The action has drawn the attention of disability advocates, politicians, and even famous Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr., who wrote to Pono to encourage him to always try his best. In October, Challenge Maui and Handicapped Advocacy Works of Kona filed complaints with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and with the Justice Department, saying PONY discriminates against the deaf player in violation of federal anti-discrimination law.
"The amazing thing for us is that every one except PONY seems to get it," said Pono's mother, Beth. "Usually, with the ADA, it's the local buy-in that's the hardest to get. PONY's rulebook clearly states that it will not discriminate against kids with disabilities, and yet, they allow this to happen and actually defend it. That a national organization could be so ignorant of the law is astonishing to us."
"Pono goes after PONY Baseball" (Garden Island News)