Handicapped or not

Greetings all fellow FIRST’ers

I need some opinions from past and present refs.
We have a student that wants to be the shooter for our team. The problem is, he is approx. 4 foot tall. When he is at the drivers station he can’t see over a the laptop’s lid and he can’t easily see the first zone.

I posted the question to the GDC and here is their resoponse:

The rule they are referring to is:
<T26> The only equipment that may be brought on to the ARENA is the OPERATOR CONSOLE, reasonable decorative items, and special clothing and/or equipment required due to a disability. Other items, particularly those intended to provide a competitive advantage for the TEAM, are prohibited.

My question is. Would he considered handicapped and would we be out of line if we made a step stool for him?

I hesitantly agree with the GDC response. In my personal opinion, I don’t think height-challenged is a recognized disability. The GDC may be thinking of the safety implications if the student happens to lose his footing or falls off the platform, or if another student trips over it.

I wonder if the student could wear spackler’s stilts? Unlike regular stilts, these articulate and make using then trivially easy, and they come as low as six inches. These could be considered an article of personal clothing, “special shoes” in a sense, much like a pair of ‘platform shoes’ you may remember from the 1970s. Just have him wear longer pants…

I know you were looking for past/present refs for an answer, I am moved to chime in here. I would have absolutely no issues with a small step stool for your driver (if dwarfism is present). My spouse is quite short (4’6") and I completely understand the difficulties for those who are not of average height. And while she is not considered disabled, she is handicapped in what she can do without assistance devices.

I think the real question is, does he have a recognized, legally defined disability or is he just short? (I am not answering as a ref here, these are my personal opinions) If it is a legal disability, then I think you can go back to the GDC and request reconsideration.

I understand the GDC’s mindset on this - they don’t want to start a precedent that snowballs (we have enough snow here already) . Say you have an 8th grade driver on your team (there are some) who is less than 5 feet tall. It would be a violation of the rules to use a stepstool. But what if the driver suffers from dwarfism? (I apologize if I am using the wrong word - I don’t know the accepted terms for these conditions) I would consider that a disability.

The only instance I know of where accommodations were made for a disability was to allow a deaf team member to have an interpretor next to him.

I agree. If the student has a form of dwarfism, stool use would be appropriate IMHO

I agree with the question posted by Carol as well. It’s one I need to ask to the student and parent in question.

Being that FIRST in my opinion has lifted the age requirement of FRC, used to be 14 years old I remember, to a term they say PRE-COLLEGE, could open up the doors on these new issues of 5th, 6th, 7th or 8th grade drivers on an FRC team that are “short” because of their age and have not “bloomed” yet.

Unlike most high school based FRC teams, with a new injection of 4-H teams like us since 2005, we are open to all high schools surrounding, all home school students, and all MIDDLE SCHOOL students on our FRC team. 4-H does not restrict us to just one single high school.

Therefore a different prespective for FIRST should be considered or put the age limit back, when everyone assumes if you are an FRC team, that you are related or have relationships with a high school. This has been a battle for us from grants to younger kids on the drive team.

With this “assumption” that all FRC team members are high school kids, then when the wall was designed a decade ago height consideration was probably given for a standard high school aged kid, not a middle school student.

Again, I believe FRC used to be like that, then changed the age requirement so I wonder if FIRST needs to consider situations like 4-H teams that are not high school based.

I am ok with the decision, but I hope GDC sees our situation and either considers the wall is not designed for PRE-COLLEGE middle school students, or places the age limit back for safety reasons.

In the case of the student in question, he is very short for his age about a foot difference than the rest of the kids his age. The student is also 14 years old as well…

How tall would his ‘new’ height be? 4’6"? 5’0"? 6’6"?

It would be hard to define a line between compensating and enhancing.

Dwarfism is usually defined as an adult height of less than 4’ 10".

Some state DMVs grant handicapped plates to those which meet the requirements for dwarfism, since they may need assistive devices in order to drive a car. As such, at only about 4’ high, I’d say that your driver would qualify for a reasonably-sized steep stool (between 12" and 18" high). This would put your driver into the height range of most high school students.

It would take a 30" high step stool for a 4’ person to get to 6’6". That’s not a step stool, that’s a table.

I lean towards letting every student participate if they want to. An item used in stage and TV and public presentations is called an “apple box”. This sturdy platform comes in various sizes but is generally 12" x 24" x 6". Something similar is the wooden Pepsi cases of old but closed on top and bottom. We use them all the time to equalize height challenged people who must speak from a podium. Even Wheel of Fortune uses them on a regular basis so that height challenged contestants can spin the wheel. I understand the possibility of liability but an apple box should do the trick nicely. I bet a box made from 2 x 6 lumber is strong enough and high enough for you purposes. It would be 7" high if the bottom was left open.

Just throwing my two cents in here… While there may not be official rules limiting age like there used to be, FRC is designed for high school aged children. In fact, FIRST’s website defines FLL as K-3, FTC as 4-8, and FRC as 9-12. If it comes down to a question of students younger than high school aged, I would say FIRST does not have to make any accommodations for them - teams can use older students to drive, and those younger students can drive in a few years.

Now, for your case specifically… 14 years old certainly could be a freshman - but being 4 feet tall at that age, while short, is not necessarily a disability or medical condition. The way kids grow, he could be 5 feet tall by the start of school next year.

You also need to realize that the wall was designed with safety in mind. The aluminum portion extends 3 feet high (well, 35 inches according to the drawings). This means that a majority of the high speed impacts it takes (and it takes quite a few every year) occurs on this aluminum section. If they happened on the polycarbonate section, you can bet it would be broken and smashed before a single regional was over. By changing the wall design to provide a lower field of view, you would fundamentally be changing the safety characteristics of the field.

Now, lets talk about shelf height. The shelf sits about 3 feet off the ground, which makes it a comfortable surface for a vast majority of the drivers in first. Lowering it to accommodate someone like your driver would be detrimental to everyone else.

Finally, the idea of permitting a stool to stand on. Doing so provides several hazards, as others have point out - your student could fall off it, other students may trip over it, etc. Plus, it opens the door to unfair (and unsafe) advantages - if stools are allowed, why wouldn’t a team try to get their driver up 7 feet high so they can see the field that much better?

And on a personal rant… We all want every kid to be successful in everything they do. But the truth of the matter is they aren’t. Sometimes things don’t work out, sometimes (like this example) the situation is simply set up against them. All too much these days our society sets up scenarios where kids will be successful or win regardless of what they actually do. We want them to be successful, so we lower the bar until everyone can be successful. Sure, it makes everyone feel good, but is it really helping the kids prepare for adulthood? If a kid is legitimately too short to be able to drive a robot, could this not help serve as a life lesson on managing expectations and understanding how to be successful (say, as part of the pit crew) despite these challenges?

I acknowleged your opinion in my post and agree on the safety concerns :

“I am ok with the decision, but I hope GDC sees our situation and either considers the wall is not designed for PRE-COLLEGE middle school students, or places the age limit back for safety reasons.”

My opinon is if the kids are mature and responsible, I will always pull for them like cheering for the underdog. I’ve had 6th grade home school kids that do amazing things. I hate to limit them just because soceity classifies them in the “6th” grade. Home school people don’t do “grades”. But I can understand your opinon.

Talk to the people at the regional, but not about a step stool. Ask about using the wheelchair ramp that comes with the field.

(For that matter, follow up with the GDC asking about using that ramp.)


While I hate to take this mentality (Taking rules into your own hands), I think that you shouldn’t worry about what the GDC has to say and talk to the head referee at the regional. After discussing the topic here and seeing that what you’re asking is in the spirit of the rules, I think that speaking with someone on a more personal level should get you the okay. I think it’s been made clear here that you’re not trying to gain any sort of competitive advantage as much as just giving this kid a shot at driving.

(I know this sounds weird coming from the guy who had to slouch to see through the driver’s station glass sometimes…)

If he’s 14, I wouldn’t make too big of a deal out of it. The definition posted above about the requirements of dwarfism aren’t met because he isn’t at his “adult height” yet. My personal opinion would be to have him wait a year or two and see what happens. If he’s still 4’ when he is a senior, I fully agree that that is a disability. Until then, he just hasn’t gone through a growth spurt.

I know its not what you want to hear, but it might be the most fair/safe answer to the situation.

Just my 2cents…

I agree with EricVanWyck and eagle 33199. It may be a tough pill to swallow, but some times you just have to play with the cards you’re dealt. Do you think (for example) it would be fair for your 4’0" driver to get a 1’ boost while our 4’8" driver doesn’t get any boost? It is probably not appropriate to draw a line in the sand and say “you can have booster that makes you ____ tall, but no taller.”

Not to rant too much, but consider that if disadvantages are always compensated for, then what is there left to compete with?

Clearly you’re not overtly trying to get an edge, which is good, but if you have a choice between a less talented driver who can see and a more talented driver who can’t see as well… then you might be giving your team an unfair advantage.

OK, my turn.

It has been mentioned that the stool could be a trip hazard for other students. That may be, but what are other students doing in our drivers station? The stool will be somewhat under the shelf.
Also, we are playing with soccer balls. What prevents a student stepping on a ball and falling? Or tripping on the Trident?

Unfair advantage? So our 4’ student becomes a 5’ student. Where is the unfair advantage? It’s not like we are asking all the students to drive while kneeling.

Not to rant too much, but consider that if disadvantages are always compensated for, then what is there left to compete with?

Than why is there a wheel chair ramp if not to compensate?

We will bring a step stool, to BMR, and confer with the head ref. If he says no, than we won’t use it.

If I have offended anyone, I apologize.

*gets off regualtion soapbox :smiley:


It bothers me that you went to the Official ruling body (GDC) to get a ruling and now that you dislike that ruling you are going to ignore it and try and get a local ruling counter to the official ruling.

I hope that you will bring the GDCs answer to that discussion with the head ref and not leave him/her in the dark as to the official ruling.

While I understand your situation, it is not unique in FIRST. We all have to do whats best for the team, and sometimes that means not putting someone is a position that they cannot physically handle.

At 2006 IRI we had a new shooter operator (miche as she is known) for some matches, she is rather short and we had asked the IRI organizers if a step stool or box would be allowed and were denied.

Just a past scenario, she was a junior at the time I don not recall her exact height

Wayne was only kidding. The GDC ruling is FINAL. The student will have 4 more years to try out for driving practice, I hope he grows a bit more or we’ll decide to train him to look at the camera on the laptop since he can’t see over the laptop lid. :slight_smile:

Thanks for the input guys. We apprecaite the past experiences etc.

I’m sorry I got a little passionate about this subject.
The student, in question, was a very good worker and he was always there to try to help. He took allot of good natured ribbing about his size and always shrugged it off. I just hate to disappoint this student and tell him he can’t play the game.

We will definitely have the GDC ruling in hand when we ask the refs.