WASHINGTON -- On Monday afternoon, Kathleen Martinez, the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, and the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society (PBATS) signed an alliance agreement to promote disability employment and total inclusion for people with disabilities in the workforce. The ceremony took place at Nationals Park.
Since baseball began, people with disabilities have played professional baseball and distinguished themselves by their contributions on the field. Players such as Jim Abbott (born without a right hand), Curtis Pride (hearing impairment) and Adam LaRoche (attention deficit disorder) have proven they can do the job on the field and should not be judged because of their disabilities.
"ODEP [US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy] is delighted to join forces with PBATS, because we both agree that whether on the field or in the workplace, it's what people can do that matters," Martinez said. "We look forward to working with PBATS to help shape societal attitudes and improve employment outcomes for all qualified people with disabilities."
In 2013, PBATS started the Ability Transcends Challenges program (ATC) which is designed to demonstrate the value of people with disabilities, in the American workplace, using role models from baseball's past and present.
"As health care professionals within the baseball community, PBATS members see daily the challenges some players face, and firmly believe that if they can succeed in one of the most demanding sports environments imaginable, people with disabilities can contribute to any business, if given an opportunity." said Orioles head athletic trainer Richie Bancells.
The program consists of public services announcements, media tours and educational materials designed to help people learn from players and former players with disabilities.
Nationals athletic trainer Lee Kuntz, who is a member of PBATS, said he is honored to help people with a disability.
"I know it's something we've talked about at the Winter Meetings amongst the trainers' society," Kuntz said. "To partner with the department of labor and help people with disabilities get a job and become a functional part of society is a great thing."
Helping this cause hits home for Kuntz. While living in Ohio as a kid, Kuntz had a friend with cerebral palsy. Kuntz and his friends would include the kid in baseball games. The kid would catch a baseball the way Abbott did. He would catch the ball and then take his glove off and throw the baseball. If he was good enough to play baseball with his friends, he should be good enough to have a job.
"He struggled to find a job because of his disability. He can be a functional piece of society. So it was something personal for me," Kuntz said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashinNats.