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PONY Baseball refuses deaf kid dugout interpreter

When PONY Baseball officials insisted that 10-year-old Justin Kapono Tokioka's father stay outside the Hilo Boys and Girls Club field dugout rather than come into the dugout with his son to interpret the coach's instructions, they violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. That's what deaf advocates and others are saying about the youth ball club's actions.

"As a person who had the honor to be on the South Lawn of the White House when (the first) President Bush signed ADA into law, I am furious! Here it is 15 years after the passage and this ... still happens," Tom Sellers of Houston told the Honolulu Advertiser.

"It is our policy that the interpreter was allowed near the dugout but not in it since only the three coaches are allowed inside," says PONY official Don Clawson. He says the team must find a coach who can sign. Adults other than coaches aren't allowed the dugout -- might confuse the kids, says PONY.

"PONY did not discriminate against this child as he was allowed to play and did participate in our tournament. Why a league (did) not pick at least one coach who could communicate with a deaf child is the question," Clawson told reporters.

Clawson's stance betrays a misunderstanding of what an interpreter does, according to Greg Kimberlin of Glendale, CA. "As a former hearing person who became deaf while in the military, it has been astounding to me to learn how little is known about the role of sign-language interpreters as well as other assistive devices for deaf persons. An interpreter is NOT a coach, teacher, judge, or whatever, when interpreting. There are far too many nuances that need to be heard, seen and addressed to assure communication for a deaf individual," Kimberlin told reporters.

Two local disability groups have now filed complaints both with with Hawai'i County and the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Both PONY Baseball and the Boys and Girls Clubs there have received federal block grant money.

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