Skip to main content


Preparing Deaf & HOH Athletes: Assistive Technology & Your Rights

Preparing Deaf & HOH Athletes: Assistive Technology & Your Rights

Thank you, Nashville News Channel 5 for covering this story:

Lexi Experiences her first dose of Discrimination on the Ball field

I knew it would come. The day my daughter faced some sort of discrimination for two things. First, the fact that she may sit your child down with three strikes, or she may block their shot. And two, the helicopter parent that questions the use of a device that allows her to HEAR on the field as a mask for what’s really bothering the parent.. their child just struck out. Awful sounding, right? But it happened to Lexi.

I authored this piece as a BLUEPRINT for everyone with hearing loss and deafness to know how to handle the situation. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS & what to do if it happens to you or your child! And as always, to make others AWARE of people with cochlear implants or hearing aids and their needs/rights.

Lexi Vernon, my 9 year old daughter, is truly a force to be reckoned with. I'm not saying she's perfect. She is tough to coach. She experiences mental fatigue that sometimes makes her appear "spaced out". She can't hear you many times in practice due to distance or loud noises. She is headstrong and stubborn. However, Lexi is a raw, talented athlete & a fierce competitor. She's strong, tall, determined and is a talented basketball player and a fast pitch softball pitcher/player.

The coolest part to Lexi's story is that she is 100% DEAF. Lexi is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. She had a surgery in both of her ears in which they implanted a cochlear implant into her cochlea which is located in her inner ear. That implant is also attached to her hearing nerve which sends signals to her brain. Lexi wears processors on the outside of her head (just over her ears) which are the microphones and small computers that send the sound (signals) into the implant.

During athletic games, Lexi needs a small device called a "mini-mic" which is an amplifier for the coach's voice. When she is wearing additional equipment, which can cover her microphones on her processors, or when distance is an issue; this mini-mic allows Lexi to hear the coach better. It’s still not perfect, but it really helps.

This weekend, I had to witness some awful behavior by parents of young athletes. I also had to witness umpires handling it all wrong.

Lexi and our team, the Tennessee Bash, were playing in a World Series in Tennessee. We were one of the "teams to beat". Lexi is one of our pitchers. While playing in the final game to determine the “Winner’s Bracket” winner, our opponent not only questioned Lexi’s assistive technology, but so did the umpires.

I have no problem if anyone asks about her equipment and I usually disclose it. This tournament, however, only allowed one coach out at pregame, so I didn’t have the chance.

I am also one of the coaches and help support Lexi while she pitches. So the fans started yelling and acting foolish thinking I was just feeding her information into some mic. To be honest, I don't even call the pitches. That coach does NOT wear the mini-mic. She takes the sign from her catcher like everyone else. Then, our first base coach uses it when she's up to bat. When the umpire raised the questions to one of our coaches over at 1st base, our coach explained, briefly, about the technology.

UMPIRE, “so, is she hearing impaired?”
Coach, “Yes. She is deaf. She was implanted with cochlear implants in both her ears and this mic helps her hear me with all the equipment.”

At that point…it’s done. Finished. End of conversation.

But no. Now, the umpire wasn’t satisfied, “Can’t she use signs?”

Stop. Wait a minute. That is more offensive to us than anything. We fight every day to mainstream Lexi in a SPOKEN LANGUAGE WORLD. Lexi went through five years of intense speech therapy, a special “oral deaf rehab” school and speech tutoring at home 3 nights a week. She worked HARD to be able to HEAR and SPEAK.

Then, the opposing fans were saying more things about it. Then, an umpire not officiating the game, sitting under a tent, starts questioning it. AND WE WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME! OUR COACH WAS TRYING TO COACH! Lexi wasn’t even up to bat; she was in the dugout!

Thank the good Lord above Lexi couldn’t HEAR any of what was going on and Coach Charles took the mini-mic away from his mouth. How would Lexi have felt if she knew half of the people at that game were going on and on about how she shouldn’t be able to use equipment to help her hear?

So, after all the hullabaloo, I went out and spoke to the umpire directly. She seemed satisfied with my explanation. However, the fans didn’t let up. My co-coach handled it sublimely.

SO HERE’S THE TRUTH. If God permits something that stretches our emotions or mind or will, we are supposed to use it. I’m going to use this situation as an example of how to be equipped for this in the future.

Let’s say someone was on the softball team with a prosthetic leg. Do you think anyone would ever be upset that they were playing with their leg on? No, because any human being would be touched by this person’s courage to participate in mainstream athletics!
Simply because you cannot SEE someone’s hearing loss or deafness doesn’t mean it isn’t something very real and very difficult to overcome. That’s Lexi and hundreds of thousands just like her. They overcome DEAFNESS every single day due to amazing technology…but it isn’t human, natural hearing. They do, at times, require special needs.

IDEA - Individuals with Disabilities Education Act -

The IDEA entitles all children with disabilities to a free appropriate public education. This law and its implementing regulations set forth procedures for the identification, evaluation, and development of programs for children with disabilities and the process by which their parents may challenge educational recommendations. The right to a free appropriate public education includes the right to an equal opportunity to participate in non-academic and extracurricular activities. Non-academic and extracurricular activities include, among other things, athletics, recreational activities, special interest groups, clubs, and transportation. (, pg 33)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Another federal law known as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 further protects students with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of their disability. Pursuant to this law, a school cannot exclude a student or deny a student participation in any non-academic or extracurricular activity on the basis of his/her disability. This law and its regulations specifically state that schools must provide aids, services, and reasonable accommodations to ensure that students with disabilities participate with students without disabilities in non-academic and extracurricular activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student with the disability. (, pg 33)

ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act
Title II of the ADA specifically addresses the obligations of a school board or other public entity to remove communication barriers for individuals with hearing impairment:
a) a public entity shall take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, and members of the public with disabilities are as effective as communication with others, and
b) a public entity shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity (28 C.F.R. 35.160). (, pg 33)

Basically, these laws state that people with hearing loss and deafness have the right to an “even playing field” figuratively and literally speaking.

1. Your coach should disclose the technology and state the IDEA or ADA laws above to the officials of the contest. The coach should also ask the officials to disclose the technology to the other coaches.
2. Ask the coach to speak with parents about this briefly and the coach should also ask for respect for the individual with hearing loss.
3. Should any disruptions with parents occur due to the use of the technology, one parental representative or coach should be responsible in asking the umpire/official to give a warning. If it happens again, the parent or attendee should be asked to leave. (This could also be discussed in the pre-game meeting).

Whatever you do, prepare yourself or your child for this possible scenario. Remind them that people can be ugly many times and to simply ignore it. Remind them that there are also incredible human beings in this world that fight for these laws to exist, so let’s focus on the fact that they can hear, use spoken language and play sports like every hearing person!

For more on Lexi Vernon’s cochlear implant story, visit our HISTORY & MISSION section.