Deaf player separated from his interpreter


LIHU'E, Kaua'i — Kaua'i PONY baseball officials and the parents of a deaf 10-year-old boy are demanding a clear nationwide anti-discrimination policy for the league after the child was denied direct access to a sign-language interpreter at a state tournament.

Justin Kapono Tokioka, a member of the Lihu'e All-Star Mustang Team, has received coaches' instructions via sign language during his five years of PONY baseball. But his sign-language interpreter, his dad, was required to remain outside the dugout during the 2005 Mustang Regional Tournament in Hilo in July. His dad had to lean over a concrete wall to try to hear the coaches, make eye contact with the boy and to convey sign-language messages.

"The bottom line for us as parents is that, unless the rules are clarified, this same situation is likely to come up again next year if Pono is lucky enough to make it to a state tournament," said his mother, Beth Tokioka.

The nationwide PONY program provides age-group programs in baseball for boys and softball for girls. It has two-year age brackets broken into leagues, from the Shetland League for 5- and 6-year-olds to Palomino League for those 17 and 18. The Mustangs are 9- and 10-year-olds.

National PONY rules on discrimination seem clear, and include this language: "PONY baseball does not limit participation in its leagues on the basis of disability. All leagues are required to comply with this policy and failure to do so shall be grounds for revocation of or refusal to renew a league's annual membership."

But the rules don't specifically require that kids get the help they need to deal with their disabilities.

The issue raised at Hilo was that only three coaches are allowed in the dugout, and a fourth adult — even in the role of interpreter — is considered an additional coach, said Gwen Earll, Hawai'i Region state director of PONY Baseball. She said she reviewed the situation with national officials, and concluded that Pono Tokioka's interpreter could not be allowed in the dugout.

Tournament officials did eventually allow his dad, Jimmy, a restaurateur and member of the Kaua'i County Council, to sit outside the dugout, but in a position that let him communicate with his son through sign language from a distance.

"There were still some complaints from other teams that the father was coaching rather than just passing on the coaches' statements," Earll said.

PONY Kaua'i Region Director Pat Baniaga said there was never an issue in local games when Pono's dad communicated instructions to him in sign language.

"We allowed the father to participate because the father was the only one he could communicate with," Baniaga said. "Being on Kaua'i, our lifestyle here, we don't care, yeah? I don't think it's a problem."

Beth Tokioka, Kaua'i County Economic Development director, said the boy was able to excel at baseball because of his father's presence at nearly every practice and game to communicate in sign language what the coaches were telling the boy verbally.

"He has been given no special advantages, but competes on a level playing field with all the other players simply because he has an interpreter present," the boy's mother said.

When the all-star team was selected this year, Pono was on it.

PONY Lihu'e League President Warren Koga, in a letter to Baniaga, said the youngster epitomizes what PONY baseball is about.

"This child has been playing in the Lihu'e Baseball League for five years, and the fact that he has ascended to the all-star level in a state tournament is a testament not only to his determination and athletic ability, but also to the commitment of his parents, coaches and fellow players to help him succeed. We are very proud of his accomplishments and feel the state and national PONY system should be equally proud," Koga wrote.

But he said that when he brought up the interpreter issue at the Mustang tournament, he was told one would not be allowed in the dugout. He said he offered to have Pono's mother interpret, but that also was denied. He further asked if PONY would provide an independent interpreter and was refused.

Earll said that she understood the boy's need for an interpreter.

"We did make an exception. We allowed the father to sit in the dugout roped area, but not in the dugout. But it would not be fair to have one team with three coaches and another with four or five," she said.

But Beth Tokioka said that concession was inadequate. She said her fear is that no future coach will take her son to an all-star tournament if there's a chance he won't be able to have an interpreter relay coaching instructions.

Baniaga said he will raise the issue at the state tournament meeting next month. Earll confirmed the subject is on the agenda.

Beth Tokioka said that the national PONY organization two weeks ago rejected her request to amend the language of the disability section, to specifically allow sign-language interpreters and to conclude that "adults providing such accommodations to players with special needs, who are neither coaches nor managers, shall not be considered team personnel."

Tokioka said that national PONY Director of Baseball Operations Don Clawson informed her that the organization's rules committee had recommended against the proposed change, and that PONY's board accepted the committee's recommendation.
i got that in the e mail and i can bet you right now big island deaf community is gonna put up a uproat on the 5th to start the peition to let themknow thier voilating ADA its not abt the rules in the play book its abt reasonable accomdation and they deffy voilated that !

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