Young Athlete Fights for Reasonable Accommodations
A young Colorado competitor recently faced discrimination by the AAU Taekwondo organization during a tournament. The written policy of the AAU states that individuals with special needs are welcome to participate. Upon a direct request for information about this, Tony Staley, the AAU Sports Manager, stated that “the AAU Taekwondo Program has indeed allowed some of our athletes to participate who have 'special needs'. Hearing impaired athletes have participated in all aspects while sight impaired have competed in our forms competition with no problems. We also host a full tournament in Texas for more severely handicapped members--see news stories on aautaekwondo.org.” Staley did not answer the direct question about requests for modifications to participate that would not affect others in the competition.
Cole, the young athlete, was barred from participation with AAU.
Cole was diagnosed deaf at the age of 3 years old. He has been in Taekwondo since age 5, and has been competing since then. He is now twelve years old and is one of the top competitors in Colorado. We joined AAU in the past year and have been to a couple of tournaments and a few training sessions sponsored by AAU. Master Angel Aranzamendi, Master Barbara Kunkle and Master Raul Gutierrez were the instructors. Mr. Aranzamendi is the head of AAU in Colorado. We just recently went to an AAU Training Session. We paid our fees. The training session was very good, as always. We were there from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
At about a 7:45, I asked Master Aranzamendi if he could possibly turn down the music, because I could tell my son was having difficulties hearing the instructors while the with the music playing. Unfortunately, with hearing aids, loud noise in the background is amplified as well as everything else. At that time he proceeded to tell me that I should put plugs in his hearing aids or ears. Obviously, he has no clue about hearing loss. If I wanted my son to not to hear any instruction or music, I would simply take out his hearing aids. He did turn down the music and my son appreciated it greatly; he had been complaining about the loudness. After the AAU event was over (the first night of the two day event), Mr. Aranzamendi asked me if I liked the training. I said that it was very good and that I really appreciated him turning down the music. He proceeded to tell me that the music was there so that people can get into a rhythm. I had never been in a tournament where they music was played before. I explained that when the volume of the music is up so high it drowns out all of the other sounds and instructions that Cole could hear. He got upset and then told me that he would put him in the back of the class. It seems to me that by that comment he was discriminating just like Rosa Parks experienced in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat and be sent to the back of the bus. He also stated that I was an overprotective father. As a father, it is my job to see that Cole has what he needs until he can advocate for himself. I can't believe that a representative of the AAU still believes in discrimination and putting a deaf child in the back of a class or telling me to put ear plugs in his ears when he cannot hear. After the session was over, I went to his office and told him that I didn't appreciate the comments he made, as I was walking out he followed me and basically kicked my son out of the event and told us never to come back. He also told me, "You don't come to my school because I control the school the way I want, and it’s my way or the highway. In fact, get out and don't come back."
Brioche waited many months for a response from the AAU to his letter of complaint. During all those months, he wasn’t sure if his son was banned from all AAU events and classes since Mr. Aranzemendi served as president of the AAU Taekwondo association. The ADA requires that a Title III (public business) entity ensures that there is effective communication provided to an individual with a significant hearing loss. Mr. Brioche wanted to work this out with the AAU before filing a formal complaint with the Department of Justice.
The work paid off. The ADA Technical Assistance Center shared information with the AAU, and Cole was welcomed back to classes and competitions. Relationships have been repaired, and Cole’s dad can be with him in the holding area and ringside to assist with anything he would not hear. Today, Cole’s dad says he has taught him that he can do or be anything, and not to be bitter about his time on the sidelines. Cole has gained respect in the Taekwondo community. It was a long, uphill road, but “it taught us to pursue what is right,” says Ron. Best of all, Cole is currently undefeated in Colorado.