Texas Athletes Advocated for Inclusion and Need for Critical Funding
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : February 12, 2021
AUSTIN, TX and WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 12, 2021 – Special Olympics athletes, organization leaders, Unified Sports partners, family members, and supporters from across the United States engaged virtually on February 10th and 11th for Special Olympics’ annual “Capitol Hill Day.” This is the 19th year Special Olympics has organized the event, which includes over 500 delegates representing 48 states, and was held for the first time 100% virtually. Additionally, supporters rallied virtually to contact their Members of Congress through a VoterVoice campaign to ask for continued support of Special Olympics.
Special Olympics athletes lead more than 300 virtual 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 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 requested continued support from legislators for evidence-based programming that benefits all Americans, regardless of ability.
“Special Olympics Hill Day 2021 was entirely virtual. Rather than that being an obstacle, the virtual platform enabled 29 Special Olympics Hill Day Delegates to meet with more than 20 members of Congress and both U.S. Senators,” said Jenni Sellers, Special Olympics Texas Director of Government Relations.
“Athletes voicing their needs and advocating for themselves and Special Olympics is what this all about… the moment when an Athlete meets an elected official is magic,” Jenni added. “I have the opportunity to witness, almost daily, an elected official's life changed by getting to know our Athletes - it's a humbling experience and eye-opening for all. Moreover, when the Athletes advocate for themselves - and are heard by those in power - the Athlete builds confidence, independence, and self respect.”
Several athletes from Texas participated in the eventful days of virtual meetings, and the response from Texas athletes was entirely positive, many athletes calling the day “fun,” and “important”.
“Our athletes and youth leaders are on the front lines, tearing down barriers which have discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities for far too long. While they are working to build a more inclusive framework, they need the critical funding the U.S. government provides to fortify this structure, creating a brighter future for all,” said Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. Shriver added, “Additionally, we are seeking the U.S. government’s support to preserve laws guaranteeing the full rights, participation, and integration of people with intellectual disabilities into our society.”
The record high 500-plus delegates were joined by a record high number of Special Olympics Global and Champion Ambassadors including Brooklyn Decker Roddick, Mack Hollins, Maureen McCormick, John C. McGinley, Dale Moss, Apolo Ohno, and Dalton Risner.
The versatility of the two-day virtual event gave many their first experience of being part of the annual Capitol Hill Day event, including long-time supporter of Special Olympics Brooklyn Decker Roddick. “For too long, I have watched people with intellectual disabilities be treated as less than equal. I am excited and honored to participate in my first Capitol Hill Day alongside Special Olympics athletes as we advocate to decision-makers for health and education funding, ensuring people with intellectual disabilities, people like my aunt, are treated with respect and dignity.”
In more than 7,800 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®), through whole-school engagement opportunities, and by fostering inclusive youth leadership. As many as 3.6 million young people are taking part in these experiences in 49 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, which are increasing acceptance of people of all abilities while simultaneously reducing stigma and bullying.
Special Olympics offers critical health programming where Special Olympics athletes can receive free health screenings and year-round health and fitness interventions, and where health professionals are trained to treat people with ID to increase access to quality care for people with ID in their communities. In the U.S., Special Olympics has provided over 1 million health screenings and trained over 133,000 health care professionals. Almost 100,000 athletes participate in ongoing fitness interventions that can improve blood pressure. Globally, Special Olympics has provided over 2 million free health screenings in over 135 countries and trained nearly 280,000 health care professionals on how to treat people with ID.
In addition to federal U.S. government funding, Special Olympics also receives funds from private foundations, corporations, and individuals. Public and private support is critical for Special Olympics to offer education and health programming to participants at no cost. Special Olympics encourages individuals to contact their Members of Congress using a VoterVoice campaign with the ask to support Special Olympics.
About Special Olympics Texas
Special Olympics Texas (SOTX) is a privately funded non-profit organization that changes lives through the power of sport by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities, promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect. SOTX provides continuing opportunities for more than 58,800 children and adults with intellectual disabilities throughout the Lone Star State to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy and friendship. To learn more, visit www.specialolympicstexas.org or call 800.876.5646. Engage with us on: Twitter @SOTexas; fb.com/SpecialOlympicsTX; youtube.com/specialolympicstexas.