Disabled Boy Not Allowed To Play Football with Needed Visor
OCONOMOWOC - Twelve-year-old Graham Bartunek played football for years when he lived in Kansas City. But now that he has moved to Oconomowoc, he may have to give up the game he loves.
"I just don't understand why they won't allow it. It's beyond me," Graham's father Paul said.
Graham has albinism, meaning his skin doesn't have any pigment, he's partially blind, and the sun is dangerous for him. That's why he wants to wear a tinted face shield while playing football. But the Oconomowoc Parks and Recreation Department won't allow it.
"I was really mad and upset because the face shield really helps me and makes it hard to play without it," Graham said.
City officials said the tinted face shield violates federal safety standards, because players' eyes have to be showing, but the family doesn't understand why an exception can't be made because of Graham's disability.
"The face shields are allowed in football. The NFL allows them. We have a doctor's note to justify the need. It's about vision. It's about sun exposure," Paul said.
"He's very sensitive to the sun, and we're looking to get some additional protection. A clear visor is a legal device. We're just asking for a reasonable accommodation to add a tint to a legal device."
For now, Graham wears sunglasses to play, but he says they frequently fall off, and the sunglasses only protect his eyes, not the skin that is greatly sensitive to the sun.
Still, says he will do whatever it takes to remain part of the team.
City officials also said they are hopeful they will be able to work something out where Graham will be able to wear the tinted face shield in practice. But said even if that did happen, he still would not be able to wear it during games.
Paul credits the league for trying to help Graham's situation in the first place.
"The league actually accommodated my son initially to give him a helmet with a face mask that would accommodate the tinted face shield. He practiced all of fall up until the first game, where the head official actually made him remove the shield before the would begin the game."
"The rule book clearly states that there can be reasonable exceptions made for student athletes with disabilities. I asked them, 'what would be more reasonable to ask for?' "