WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 12, 2020 – (PRESS RELEASE) 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. on February 11th for Special Olympics’ annual “Capitol Hill Day.” This is the 18th year Special Olympics has organized the event, which included over 260 delegates representing 46 states and the District of Columbia.
Special Olympics athletes led more than 300 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 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 200,000 Special Olympics U.S. athletes with health programming, with a goal of reaching at least 500,000 by 2025.
“The lawmakers really listened to my story and my message about how Special Olympics is very important to me and the rest of Wisconsin.” – Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete Danny Cox
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.
Special Olympics Wisconsin’s delegation consisted of athlete Danny Cox of Eau Claire, President & CEO Kathleen Roach, Director of Unified Programs Erin Muehlenkamp, coach Deborah Moore-Gruenloh, and Unified Partners Tomer Korabelnikov and Cecilia Rosborough of UW-Madison.
During Hill Day, the delegation met with Wisconsin senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, Representatives Bryan Steil (1st District), Mark Pocan (2nd District), Glenn Grothmann (6th District), and staff from the offices of representatives Ron Kind (3rd District), Gwen Moore (4th District) and Mike Gallagher (8th District).
“I had an amazing time at Hill Day. It was a wonderful experience. I got to fly on an airplane for the first time, I met lots of great people, and I spoke to our Wisconsin legislators,” said Special Olympics Wisconsin athlete Danny Cox of Eau Claire. “The lawmakers really listened to my story and my message about how Special Olympics is very important to me and the rest of Wisconsin.”
“Our athletes and youth leaders are leading us in a world-wide revolution of inclusion, a collective fight to end discrimination for people with intellectual disabilities,” said Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. Shriver added, “Part of our collaborative fight includes the U.S. government’s support not only to help fund critical programming, but to also preserve laws guaranteeing the rights and full participation and integration of people with intellectual disabilities into our society.”
“These extraordinary athletes inspire me every day, and it is imperative we share their stories with decision-makers to advocate for health and education funding.” – WWE Superstar “Big Show”
Joining Special Olympics athletes was Special Olympics Global Ambassador and WWE Superstar “Big Show”, aka Paul Wight. “I have deep respect for Special Olympics athletes and am excited and honored to participate in my first Special Olympics Capitol Hill Day. These extraordinary athletes inspire me every day, and it is imperative we share their stories with decision-makers to advocate for health and education funding.”
In more than 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 on sports teams (Special Olympics Unified Sports®), through inclusive student clubs, and by fostering youth leadership. As many as 3.6 million young people are taking part in these experiences, which are increasing acceptance of people of all abilities while simultaneously reducing stigma and bullying.
Special Olympics offers events where Special Olympics athletes can receive free health screenings and health education, and where health professionals are trained to offer year-round health access to people with ID in their home communities. Since the U.S. government’s first investment in 1997 in the organization, Special Olympics has provided over 900,000 health screenings and trained over 116,000 health care professionals and students in the U.S. Globally, Special Olympics has provided over 2 million free health screenings in over 135 countries and trained nearly 280,000 health care professionals on the topic of 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.