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Deaf Ball Player's Victory Will Benefit Countless Others

LIHUE, HAWAII--The persistence of an 11-year-old deaf boy and his parents has led to a decision that could help countless children with disabilities to be more meaningfully included in sports and recreational activities.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that an agreement had been made to settle a complaint against PONY Baseball Inc., filed by Justin Kapono "Pono" Tokioka and his parents Jimmy and Beth. The family had alleged that the organization violated the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act by denying Pono access to a sign language interpreter during league games.

Pono played last summer on the Kauai PONY league with his father in the dugout interpreting instructions from team coaches. But when it came time for the state tournament in July, the Tokiokas were told that his father amounted to an extra coach in the dugout, in violation of PONY rules.

The family argued that Pono's father only acted as an interpreter. They offered for the mother to interpret, and suggested that the league come up with a separate interpreter.

The national organization, however, refused to allow any 'extra' adults in the dugout.

The National Center of the Deaf joined the family in the lawsuit as the Justice Department investigated the league's policies.

Under the settlement, PONY agreed to pay Pono $30,000 in damages; allow and provide sign language interpreters for players who are deaf or hard of hearing; change their rules and practices to give players with disabilities equal opportunities to participate in baseball and softball games; and appoint an ADA coordinator trained in requirements of title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations.

While the settlement directly affects many of the 450,000 children and youths in PONY baseball and softball leagues, it is expected to set a precedent for any future disability discrimination complaints that might be made against other youth sports leagues.

"I feel happy because I helped other kids with disabilities have an interpreter in all sports," Pono said Thursday.

PONY settles with deaf Kauai ballplayer (Honolulu Star Bulletin)
Settlement levels PONY ball fields (Honolulu Advertiser)
DOJ makes it ‘Pono’ for disabled athletes (The Garden Island)

Copyright 2006 Inonit Publishing
Article reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express international disability rights news service. Please do not reprint, republish or forward without permission.

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