FORGET that the Baltimore Orioles have lost 111 games and are having the worst season in their history.
REMEMBER that On September 18, 2018, the Orioles became the first U.S. professional team to use Braille lettering on their uniforms.
This was in honor of the National Federation of the Blind’s move to Baltimore 40 years ago. Each uniform had “Orioles,” as well as the player’s name, spelled out in Braille characters. Braille alphabet cards were also handed out during the game.
The team was originally going to do something to commemorate the 28th Anniversary of the Amerians with Disabilities Act. When they learned about the NFB anniversary, however, they decided to have make their tribute closer to “home.”
Well, nothing – unless you happen to be an individual with mobility and/or balance problems. Then, this scene could quickly turn into a nightmare.
More realistically, we probably just wouldn’t go to whatever this game is. Then we would lose the opportunity to have a pleasant evening, contribute to the economy and be more integrated into mainstream society.
This and thousands of similar scenes are part of the reason the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) was enacted in 1990.
The ADA defines sports arenas as public accommodations (see the “public accommodations” link on this site). As such, they are required to accommodate people with disabilities, as long as that accommodation does not create an undue burden.
So what might “accommodation” look like in this scenario? It could be a number of different things: installing hand railings, designating certain seats outside of this area for people with disabilities and their companions, providing physical assistance with getting up and down the stairs, etc.
In 2011, new regulations were issued that clarify much of what the law requires, as well as practical examples of what compliance might look like. Those regulations are in the link below.
Even though Jim Abbott was born without a right hand, he won a gold medal for the 1988 U.S. Olympic baseball team and threw a no- hitter for the New York Yankees. Curtis Pride and Pete Gray, both outfielders, are deaf. And John Lester and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs and cancer survivors, recently presented their long-suffering fans with a World Series title.
They and other baseball players with disabilities were honored in 2015 by Topps Baseball Cards. In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Topps launched a series of baseball cards honoring players with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are often looked at for what they can’t do instead of being appreciated for what they can do…Imagine if a child or the parent of a child with a disability, by simply opening a pack of baseball cards, discovers that one or their heroes was legally blind or deaf or has battled cancer? They should truly feel empowered and encouraged,” said the Cubs’ medical director Mark O’Neal.
And just a few days ago, the Kansas City Royals signed the first baseball player with autism.
Baseball has a long and proud history of being among the first American institutions to break civil rights barriers. They did it with Jackie Robinson and other racial minorities, and they have also done it with players with disabilities.
Of course, baseball is dimished if people can’t watch it. So in my next post, I’ll talk about the progress made in allowing spectators with disabilities into baseball games.
See the two USA Today articles below (as well as Joe Shapiro’s facebook page) for more information.
The baseball season is fast approaching, and that includes Little League. These are indelible symbols of our American values, but they still must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In 1992, Little League, Inc. adopted a policy saying that coaches in wheelchairs were not allowed on the baseball field, but had to coach from the dugout. After one tries to visualize how that could possibly work, the logical next question to ask is why. That’s the question that was asked by the players and the parents, but no clear answer was given.
A coach who was a wheelchair user sued Little League Baseball, Inc. and he won. The Arizona federal district court first held that Little League met the definition of a “public accommodation” (see the “public accommodation” page on this website.) The court also clarified that the ADA does not require any organization to put people in danger, but that danger must be real:
“In determining whether an individual, such as plaintiff, poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, a public accommodation must make an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence, to ascertain: (1) the nature, duration, and severity of the risk; (2) the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and (3) whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk.”
In other words, the court said, Little League Baseball, Inc. had a legal obligation to assess the realistic danger posed by this particular individual in this situation. And in this case, the coach had been coaching from the field for three years without posing any kind of safety hazard and was very popular among parents and players. “Moreover,” the court said, “plaintiff’s significant contributions of time, energy, enthusiasm, and personal example benefit the numerous children who participate in Little League activities as well as the community at large. Plaintiff’s work with young people teaches them the importance of focusing on the strengths of others and helping them rise to overcome their personal challenges.”
Baseball was the first sport that accepted an African-American player on a major league team. Baseball also has players from a wide variety of countries and cultures, exemplifying diversity and inclusion. It is very reassuring that the court extended that philosophy to include people with disabilities.