Special Olympics athletes, Program leaders, Unified partners, and family members from all 50 states and the District of Columbia converged on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on February 13 for Special Olympics’ annual “Capitol Hill Day.” This was the first time in the 16-year history of Capitol Hill Day in which all 50 states were represented, honoring the organization’s 50th Anniversary.
Special Olympics athletes held more than 250 face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress in both the House and Senate, challenging and inviting their elected officials to partner with them to achieve the goals of expanding Special Olympics Unified Sports and Unified Champion Schools programming, and to end health care disparities and discrimination against the 15 million persons with intellectual disabilities in America by supporting inclusive health initiatives.
Special Olympics athletes, serving as self-advocates, educated lawmakers and their staff about the significant consequences that arise from the stigma and stereotypes faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They described how that impacts their lives in the areas of sports, health care and education. The goals of Capitol Hill Day were to effectively convey the high impact and cost-effectiveness of Special Olympics’ evidence-based programming that addresses these issues, to educate lawmakers and to secure continued support from legislators.
The delegation from Special Olympics North Carolina included: SONC President/CEO Keith Fishburne of Wake Forest, SONC Senior Vice President Kelly Vaughn of Clayton, SONC Athlete Dustin Edmondson of Greensboro, SONC Athlete Jennifer Wardlow of Winston-Salem and SONC Youth Leader Maggie DeWeese of Cullowhee.
Throughout the day, participants met face-to-face with their Members of Congress including US Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC9), Congressman Walter Jones (R–NC3), Congressman Mark Meadows (R-NC11) and Congressman David Rouzer (R-NC7). The SONC Delegation also met with staff members representing Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Congressman David Price (D-NC4), Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC10), Congressman Richard Hudson (R-NC8), Congressman Ted Budd (R-NC13) and Congressman George Holding (R-NC2).
“We are very pleased with the reception we got from our North Carolina Members of Congress,” said Fishburne. “I believe they better understand the importance of inclusivity in schools and in everyday life. They learned more about the challenges that people with intellectual disabilities face each day, including discrimination and poor health services, and they want to be part of the solution.”
“No one can better articulate a vision for how America can become a more inclusive nation or demonstrate what it means to unite and come together than the athletes and Unified partners of Special Olympics” said Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. Shriver added, “Our athletes and youth leaders will lead us into the next 50 years of our fight to end discrimination for people with intellectual disabilities, but we can’t do it alone. We need governmental support to preserve laws that guarantee the rights and full participation and integration of people with intellectual disabilities into our society.”
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and former Washington Redskins legend, Darrell Green, joined Shriver, Special Olympics Global Ambassador Dale Moss, and Special Olympics athletes to urge Members of Congress to make the ideals of inclusion a reality.
Green said, “I am honored to join Special Olympics athletes and leaders from across the nation for the annual Capitol Hill Day. We are inspired by their personal stories and accomplishments. We came away even more committed to ensuring that these amazing athletes, and individuals with intellectual disabilities across the nation, have our full support.”
Following Capitol Hill Day, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri was recognized during a dinner. A long-time champion and advocate for Special Olympics, Blunt was honored by the constituents present with a signed poster and a Special Olympics sweater. “Over the past 50 years, Special Olympics has redefined what strength, determination, and courage look like in the world of sports,” said Blunt. “All of the athletes, parents, coaches, and supporters here tonight have made our communities better, healthier, and more inclusive. Whether it’s on the field or in the halls of Congress, you are powerful advocates for this organization and for all Americans with intellectual disabilities. I’m a proud supporter of Special Olympics and appreciate the opportunity to welcome you to Washington D.C.”
In more than 5,400 Unified Champion Schools across the country, Special Olympics has trained and mobilized youth leaders and educators to create more inclusive schools by including students with intellectual disabilities (ID) in all aspects of school life. Students with and without intellectual disabilities are also playing and competing together, on the same team, through Special Olympics Unified Sports. These experiences are helping to increase acceptance of all abilities to classrooms across the country, and are reducing stigma and bullying
Special Olympics offers free health events where Special Olympics athletes receive free health screenings and health education, and where health professional are trained and inspired to offer year-round health access to people with intellectual disabilities in their home communities. In the past 20 years, in the U.S. alone, Special Olympics provided over 58,000 health screenings and trained over 10,000 health care professionals. Globally, Special Olympics has provided over 1.9 million free health screenings in over 130 countries and trained over 220,000 health care professionals.
For every dollar provided by U.S. federal funds to the Special Olympics Health program, the organization is able to provide $7.42 in high quality health services to people with intellectual disabilities. Public and private support is critical to sustain Special Olympics’ ability to continue to offer these programs to participants at no cost.
About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. We empower people with intellectual disabilities to become included and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all. Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5.7 million athletes and Unified partners in 172 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium.
About Special Olympics North Carolina
Throughout 2018, the Special Olympics movement is celebrating 50 years of joy, courage and empowerment. Since 1968, the organization has used the transformative power of sports to improve the lives of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Nearly 40,000 athletes in North Carolina inspire thousands of coaches, sports officials, local program committee members and event organizers involved in Special Olympics statewide. SONC offers year-round training and competition in 19 Olympic-type sports on local and state levels as well as health and wellness initiatives to improve the health status and increase access to community health resources for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Youth become agents of change through Unified Champion Schools, an education and sports-based program created by Special Olympics to build an inclusive environment among youth with and without intellectual disabilities as well as empower them to become youth leaders and create change in their community. Visit Special Olympics North Carolina at www.specialolympicsnc.com. Engage with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.