Blind World Magazine

Skating event not proper for the blind, lawsuit says.

Virginian Pilot, VA.
Saturday, May 06, 2006.

CHESAPEAKE - Perhaps it was a bad idea to strap skates on a blind woman and send her off unescorted around a roller rink. Perhaps not.

A 48-year-old Chesapeake woman thinks it was an awful idea after she reportedly fractured her wrists and injured her shoulders, back and neck during a state-sponsored outing in 2004.

The skating adventure with other visually impaired participants was sponsored by the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired.

Chesapeake courts could be asked to decide a $1.5 million lawsuit that says the state was negligent and reckless during the skating excursion.

The lawsuit, which has not been served, was filed recently in Chesapeake Circuit Court against the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired and Skate America Inc. in Mechanicsville .

Robert Burton, deputy commissioner at the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, said the agency could not comment on the litigation. Skate America is no longer at the Mechanicsville location, and its registered agent could not be reached for comment.

Judy Wassenaar, categorized as totally blind after losing her sight as an adult, was said to be not particularly athletic and had not skated in more than 30 years when her instructor turned her loose.

"She was provided no safety gear whatsoever, which is one of the major complaints here," said her attorney, Kevin Martingayle. "Nothing for your knees, elbows, wrists or head.

"It seems to me that if you have amateur skaters, particularly blind amateur skaters, that you would at minimum give them appropriate safety equipment."

Wassenaar went around the roller rink once with an escort.

"The instructor then turned her loose and told her to go around the outer edge of the skating rink, without providing one-on-one or adequate assistance," the lawsuit say s.

She fell hard to the skating surface, the lawsuit says .

Martingayle said he is attempting to negotiate a reasonable compromise. If there is no agreement , he said, he plans to pursue the matter in court.

The Chesapeake woman was enrolled as a student in the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired, which was established to help the severely visually impaired adjust to life. The center, according to its Web site, teaches strategies and skills to adapt to living without sight. The goal is for the blind to lead more independent and satisfying lives.

Wassenaar was a live-in resident at the state-financed and state-run program.

In April 2004, Wassenaar and about five other students were taken to Skate America, "presumably for some type of vocational and/or therapeutic purpose," the lawsuit says.

Reach John Hopkins at (757) 222-5221 or

End of article.

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