Special Olympics Wisconsin athletes, organization leaders, and Unified Champion School partners from across the Badger State engaged virtually on February 9 and 10 for Special Olympics’ annual “Capitol Hill Day.”
SOWI athlete and Marshfield native Heather Holland joined SOWI Unified Champion School student ambassadors Annabelle Hodges and Alicia Langlois and advisor Jenni Oefger from Neenah High School to tell their stories and promote inclusion through legislation.
“To have this opportunity to share our stories is so important,” Holland said. “All of the people that generously gave us time today—it helped them to see what Special Olympics is all about and how important their support is, not only through the budget but also coming out and meeting us, having fun. All in all, it was just a wonderful experience and I feel like we definitely made an impact.”
- U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D)
- U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R)
- U.S. Representative Bryan Steil (R), District 1
- U.S. Representative Mark Pocan (D), District 2
- U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D), District 3
- U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D), District 4
- U.S. Representative Glenn Grothman (R), District 6
- U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher (R), District 8
The Wisconsin delegates were also joined by a number of Special Olympics Global and Champion Ambassadors as well as celebrity supporters including Tim Shriver and Dale Moss.
“I’m excited to be a part of Special Olympics Capitol Hill Day again this year,” said Dale Moss, Special Olympics Global Ambassador. “I’ve seen and experienced for myself just how important it is for people with intellectual disabilities to be included in healthcare, education, and their communities. The effects of the pandemic over the past two years have made this need even more urgent. I am proud to join Special Olympics athletes and delegations in advocating for Federal funding to support the critical work they are doing to make our country a more inclusive place for us all.”
Capitol Hill Day 2022 included over 400 delegates nationally, representing 47 states and the District of Columbia. Special Olympics athletes led more than 250 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 Unified Champion Schools® programming is in nearly 7,500 schools across the United States, with a goal of being in over 10,000 schools by 2024. Special Olympics is also working towards ending health care disparities for Americans with ID. Under the current federal funding agreement that started in 2016, Special Olympics has reached more than 207,000 Special Olympics U.S. athletes with inclusive health programming, with a goal of reaching at least 500,000 by 2025.
Typically, Special Olympics U.S. Programs travel to Washington, D.C. each February to meet with their state’s Members of Congress in person. However, due to COVID-19, all meetings were held virtually for Capitol Hill Day 2022.
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.
“For more than 50 years, Special Olympics athletes and youth leaders have defied expectations, broken barriers and shattered stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities. Their continued work to build truly inclusive communities is only possible with critical funding from the U.S. government, which is complemented by private support,” said Mary Davis, CEO of Special Olympics. Davis added, “The U.S. government has long been a champion of Special Olympics and together, we must continue working towards ensuring Americans with intellectual disabilities have the same rights, access to services, and opportunities as all other Americans.”
In nearly 7,500 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 in sports and fitness activities (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 140,000 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.
Special Olympics Wisconsin participates annually in this program, and this year’s delegation understands just how important it is to meet with representatives. For next year’s SOWI athlete representative, Holland had some advice.
“The biggest thing is just take in everything,” Holland said. “Information that you learn is important—like how to tell your story, how we at Special Olympics are all connected—coaches, athletes, staff, and our Representatives. Always remember to be proud. Have fun. You might have an opinion on the way in but when you leave it will definitely change. Your eyes will truly be opened and your heart will fill with joy, love, and pride.”