Jul 292009

By Rick Armon, Beacon Journal, 7/16/09

A hearing-impaired Ohio State University football fan has sued the school, arguing that the university should offer captioning on the scoreboard and stadium televisions because he can’t hear the announcers.

”When I go to a game, I’m never able to follow the game,” said Vincent Sabino, 32, of Hilliard. ”It takes away from being a fan. It’s a game experience thing.”

The lawsuit was filed late last month in federal court in Columbus by the National Association of the Deaf in Silver Spring, Md.

The suit says the university is violating the Americans With Disabilities Act by not providing captioning at all its venues, including Ohio Stadium, Schottenstein Center and St. John Arena.

”It has been almost 20 years, and many places such as sports stadiums still do not take seriously their obligations to make sports events fully accessible in compliance with the ADA,” association attorney Michael Stein said Thursday.

Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch said the university is working with Sabino’s attorney and understands its legal obligations under the ADA.

”We’re hopeful we can reach an acceptable resolution for both parties that will cause the lawsuit to be dismissed,” he said. ”We are considering a host of options including captioning on the scoreboards.”

The suit seeks captioning for everything from referee calls to song lyrics. It also seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory damages.

”We hope and expect that we will be able to work together to make OSU games fully accessible for deaf and hard of hearing people,” said Stein, whose group also successfully sued the Washington Redskins in 2006 over the same issue. ”We expect that sports stadiums around the country will take notice of these cases and begin making their sports events fully accessible without the need for a lawsuit.”

It’s unclear if other universities and colleges provide captioning at sporting events. A telephone message left with the National Collegiate Athletic Association was not returned.

Sabino, who grew up in Hudson, said some of his earliest and happiest memories are attending Ohio State football games with his father. His wife, father and two sisters attended Ohio State. He graduated from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y.

He now goes to at least three, and as many as five games a year with his own children.

He said he has difficulty following the game, especially when leaving his seat to go to the concession stand or bathroom. Others can listen to the action on monitors, he noted.

Sabino said he can hear with the help of hearing aids, but has trouble understanding words when there is background noise.

He conducted a telephone interview with the Beacon Journal with an interpreter at his side.

Sabino, who works for a private company that provides services for disabled individuals, said he doesn’t know how Ohio State will respond.

”I hope this will work out,” he said. ”In my mind, it’s very easy and it’s an accommodation for everybody. If you get closed captioning, everybody can see it. Hopefully, they will see it that way.”

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com.

– Thanks to NVRC, Fairfax