Special Olympics athletes, program leaders, Unified partners and family members from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will converge on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on February 13 for Special Olympics’ annual “Capitol Hill Day.” This is 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 will hold 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 people with intellectual disabilities in America by supporting inclusive health initiatives.
Advocating for Support
Special Olympics athletes, including Alex Hall and David Egan from Virginia, along with Special Olympics Virginia coach Joy Cavagnaro, will educate lawmakers and their staff about the significant consequences that arise from the stigma and stereotypes faced by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They also will describe how that impacts their lives in the areas of sports, health care and education. The goal of Capitol Hill Day is 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.
“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. “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, also will join 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.”
Making an Impact in Schools
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 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.
Improving Athlete Health
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 more than 58,000 health screenings and trained more than 10,000 health care professionals. Globally, Special Olympics has provided more than 1.9 million free health screenings in more than 130 countries and trained more than 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.