[FRC Blog] Accessibility Updates for FIRST Robotics Competition

One of my least enjoyable discussions I ever had to have in FIRST was in 2011.

Our driver had a preexisting medical condition that made it impossible for them to safely lift the robot. This was a patented “invisible disability”.

Our best operator and human player were both not disabled but neither had the physical strength to lift the robot with me the coach.

We went back and forth with FIRST to try to get them to allow us an extra individual who would only be used for helping me get the robot on and off the field. Literally only used for picking the robot off the cart, walking the 2 steps to get it on to the carpet and then I could push it. We were told that an extra person is not a reasonable accommodation, even if it was someone who was not associated with the team but would be willing to help while doing a different role at the event (such as a field resetter). When we asked why we were basically told that composing a driveteam who can safely get the robot on and off the field is “part of the rules”.

I had to sit down with team leadership (mentors and students including the driver) and the decision was made that we would rather have a single cohesive drive team for our single regional at the time, as opposed rotating between our first and second choices for each position to give me someone who could help move the robot. This was a decision I disagreed with but was out voted.

Years later the technician role was created, the exact thing we were requesting. I am glad the position now exists but I still wonder what FIRST would do if there was a team composed of students who were physically unable to move the robot on to the field in the way FIRST wants.


That is so frustrating to hear. I can understand the desire to not have that extra team member out of fear of the slippery slope, that we did eventually get down w/o injury.

However I’m certain that there would have been several field volunteers who would have happily assisted with the lifting. Yes, they have jobs to do but it would take just a few seconds before and after each match.

Did you ask if it would be possible to have an alliance partner’s help. Again I’m pretty certain that you wouldn’t have had a problem finding someone each match that was willing to help.

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At the time I didn’t have the connections or resources I do now.

We were told that volunteers had specific instructions to never touch a team’s robot (kind of true). We were also told using a member of another team to help us get the robot on and off the field could get both teams a yellow or red card at the head referee’s discretion due to violating the drive team rules. Now I think they meant specifically asking someone to use their drive team badge to come with us and help us on the field and not rotating and asking our alliance partners each match for help but once again I am older, wiser and more willing to ask questions than I was as a college freshman.

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We are facing that problem this year. Most of our upperclassmen are petite females without the upper body strength to physically lift an over 100 lbs robot. It would be horrible to say to a student “you can’t be in the drive team because we need someone stronger”
I wonder if there was a team made up of exclusively disabled students, would they not give any accommodations towards lifting the robot? I think they would let you have a special “lift team” in a heartbeat without a second thought.
But, I think this works it’s way back to the argument that the entire process of getting the robots on and off the field is fundamentally flawed.