Lawsuit: Youth sports association must provide sign language interpreter to deaf player

The parents of a deaf Minnesota boy has successfully sued their local youth football association after they refused to provide a sign language interpreter.

Family sues ADA Deaf little league

Dov Nathanson, who is in the fourth grade says says that he loves to play football.  Parents, Gloria and David Nathanson say that a sign-language interpreter allows their son to follow along in team huddles.  “I just think it’s cool. I love to tackle people it’s exciting,” he told a local media outlet.

Dov Nathanson’s family said the Spring Lake Park Panther Youth Football Association was not only balking at the cost and perceived inconvenience of the interpreter but prohibited them from using a special drum to signal the start of play because they claimed it interfered with the other players. They say Dov could feel the vibrations from the drum to help him know when the “huts” were called.

Without it, I couldn’t feel it i couldn’t feel the vibration,” Dov said. “I was never ready for the play.”

Although Dov’s parents say they felt bad bringing the lawsuit, they claim that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act required the association offer an accommodation for their son’s disability.  According to the Star Tribune, the football association argued that disability access laws don’t apply to a nonprofit association run by volunteers. In addition, the league argued that even if the ADA did apply, the cost would have been an undue hardship.

However, a federal judge disagreed and has refused to throw out the lawsuit, prompting the league to accommodate deaf players and parents as part of a settlement, the Star Tribune reports.  It will establish a disability access fund, deposit $3,000 into a college savings plan for Dov and pay $5,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs for the Nathanson family.

“It is unfortunate that this particular association was so resistant to doing what most associations are ready and eager to do — allow deaf players to feel included and equally valued,” said Heather Gilbert, the Nathansons’ attorney. “ … Hopefully with … this settlement, the next deaf boys who want to play sports in Spring Lake Park won’t have the same experience.”

Kristi Avalos

In response to the case, Kristi Avalos, president and CEO of Accessology, a national leader in education and consultation on access related issues pointed out that all programs, services and activities (PSA) that a public entity offers or participates in must be accessible to the community.

“This story provides a perfect example of how a person with a disability chooses to participate in a program offered to students, but the entity wasn’t ready with a plan of inclusion. ADA is all about equal access, not special treatment,” she stated.

If you are a public entity and have questions regarding your PSA’s under the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) or if you are in need of an ADA Transition Plan, contact Accessology here 


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