Special Olympics athletes, organization leaders, Unified Sports® partners and family members from across the United States and the District of Columbia converged on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for the annual Special Olympics “Capitol Hill Day,” Feb. 5-7, 2024. This long-running event is organized by Special Olympics and included more than 250 participants and volunteers from 47 states and the District of Columbia.
Special Olympics athletes led hundreds of face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress in both the House and Senate, inviting their elected officials to partner with them to support inclusive education and health initiatives for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® programming is in over 9,400 schools across the United States, with a goal of being in 20,000 schools by 2030. Special Olympics is out to erase health disparities for people with ID. Through free health screenings and training current and future healthcare providers, Special Olympics is ensuring that people with intellectual disabilities get follow-up care when and where they need it.
Special Olympics athletes, serving as self-advocates, educated lawmakers and their staff about the stigma faced by people with ID, and how high-impact and cost-effective Special Olympics programming in sports, health and education can reduce discrimination. The advocates also requested continued support from legislators for evidence-based programming that benefits all Americans, regardless of ability.
Representing Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC), SONC President/CEO Keith L. Fishburne, SONC Senior Vice President of Development Susan Doggett and Jacob Huffman, SONC Athlete Council Chair and Special Olympics Gaston County athlete, attended and engaged in Capitol Hill Day meetings with Members of Congress. Representatives from Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina, included SONC athlete and student Joshua Moorer, Unified partner and student Darius Douglas and teacher Deborah Deeg.
“The global Special Olympics movement stems from athletes and youth leaders who continue to question the status quo, dismantle stereotypes and lead the collective fight to end discrimination for people with intellectual disabilities,” said Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. Shriver added, “The U.S. government’s support is an essential part of this collaborative effort, not only to help fund critical programming, but also to signal the urgency that people with intellectual disabilities be fully integrated into our society.”
In more than 9,400 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 ID in all aspects of school life. Social inclusion is promoted by bringing together young people with and without ID on sports teams (Special Olympics Unified Sports® programming), through inclusive student clubs, and by fostering youth leadership. As many as 15 million young people are taking part in these experiences, which are increasing acceptance of people of all abilities while simultaneously reducing stigma and bullying.
Since 2016, Special Olympics has trained over 70,000 healthcare professionals and students and completed over 200,000 health screenings. By 2030, Special Olympics aims to serve 500,000 athletes in the United States through health programming.
The results are striking:
- Young adults with intellectual disabilities who participate in Special Olympics are half as likely to be diagnosed with depression as those who do not participate.
- Special Olympics athletes who participate in Special Olympics fitness programming experience improved blood pressure, with those at high risk for cardiovascular disease seeing the greatest improvement.
- Within two months of participation, children participating in Young Athletes programming show remarkable improvement in their motor skills.
In addition to federal U.S. government funding, Special Olympics also receives funds from private foundations, corporations and individuals to support these initiatives. Public and private support is critical for Special Olympics to offer education and health programming at no cost to participants.
About Special Olympics North Carolina
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 20 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. Engage with us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.