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Are Axe Throwing Venues Discriminating Against People With Disabilities?

  • 5 min read

Once again, the topic of ear plugs and ear buds has been raised in the community. As I dug through previous posts and responses in several Facebook groups, it was alarming how many people responded with “we play our music LOUD” or “get over it, it’s not golf.” I was a bit relieved when I sorted by date and realized that this opinion is dying out, though not quick enough.

Let’s agree before we disagree

A disability is “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.” I don’t know if you’ve looked around, especially at league night, but we are all built VERY differently. Not only from a physical standpoint, but our brains are all wired in very different ways that most of us can’t possibly fathom. We all have things that limit us. From the NIH’s website, here’s a few statistics:

  • Approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) aged 18 and over report some trouble hearing.
  • One in eight people in the United States (13 percent, or 30 million) aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.
  • Roughly 10 percent of the U.S. adult population, or about 25 million Americans, has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.

I don’t know if you’ve had to deal with tinnitus or ear trauma, but these things hurt, badly. It can feel like you’re being jabbed with a fork all night long. Using hearing protection can be a godsend and make an otherwise uncomfortable experience much better.

“You can’t hear the judge!”

This is the biggest argument I get when I advocated for hearing protection. I understand that in some circumstances, verbal communication is the quickest and easiest form of communication. Like I said above, we’re all created differently. Non-verbal communication can be easier to understand for some people. It’s the reason why we as coaches don’t just TELL people how to throw an axe, we pick them up and walk them through the demonstration. Just as you would utilize non-verbal communication with people who are hearing impaired, you should consider using it with everyone. It makes the lives of people with disabilities easier if they don’t have to tell everyone that they have a disability.

If you’re using ear plugs or buds as a preventative measure, you should be paying attention to the judges and also utilizing non-verbal communication.

“It’s OK if it’s medically necessary or you have a note.”

That shouldn’t be the barrier to entry and people with disabilities shouldn’t have to carry around a note everywhere they go, or prove they have a disability just to receive reasonable accommodation. From an employment standpoint, OSHA requires employers to provide hearing protection for employees starting at 85dB. Our venue is 2900 square feet with 15 foot ceilings. We set the music volume to 40% (our maximum) on 2 Sonos speakers. Using the NIOSH Sound Level Meter App and a iPhone 14 Pro less than a month old, we measured our ambient noise at 66dB. Add in a 30 or 40 people talking plus the sound of 10 axes hitting targets and I’m sure we’ll exceed that on league night.

As one thrower pointed out, Loop Earplugs provide protection with varying degrees. Some of their protection still lets all frequencies in, just at a lower level. We should all be taking precautions to protect our hearing, because once it’s gone, it’s not coming back. At the time of writing, the rules for one organization states “No item or equipment used to impede or block external sounds may be utilized while throwing.” -Section X, part xvii. I hope this rule will be removed in its entirety, and not just “left open to interpretation.”

While the FDA doesn’t explicitly list ear plugs as a medical device, there are law firms that will gladly help you make the case that they are. I hope that organizations will recognize that preventative measures should be allowed without a doctor’s note.

We’ve never had a single complaint!

And you probably never will, unless it’s already too late. When Ed Roberts asked his local city council for curb cuts for his wheelchair, they responded that they’d never seen someone in a wheelchair trying to use the sidewalk there. DUH! If you make something hostile toward people with disabilities then they’re probably not going to show up. I have been to venues with no countertops or tables below 40 inches. Some don’t have ramps, or ramps in very inconvenient places. Some lanes are too small for wheelchairs to turn around in. Some have tables placed in very inconvenient places for people with mobility issues. Make an attempt to recognize and understand that people are different and have different experiences and you’ll probably open yourself up to a world of things you never even thought about before.

We don’t discriminate! We welcome everyone!

That’s great! I’ve seen venues take steps that I’ve never even considered before visiting them. I’m very proud of you, but please, don’t rest on your laurels. Continue to go out into the world and listen to different perspectives. We all have room for improvement and thinking that you’re doing everything right is usually the first step towards doing it wrong. No one is perfect and no one is above criticism. Listen to everyone. You never know where good ideas come from.