I want to share with you a copy of the eloquent speech that Mary-Ellen Powers, a Special Olympics athlete from Rhode Island, shared with her members of Congress yesterday during Special Olympics’ annual advocacy day on Capitol Hill. If this didn’t prick the conscience of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support Special Olympics, I don’t know what will!


There is a lot of isolation and misunderstanding in the classroom. Bullying is a big problem in our schools, and students who have intellectual disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their ‘typically developing’ peers. Researchers confirmed that a lot of times bullying is geared towards a person’s disability.  Both Special Olympics and Best Buddies have come so far to spread the importance of acceptance and inclusion. Best Buddies is a program that fosters friendships between people who have intellectual disabilities, and their ‘typically developing’ peers around the same age, from middle school, all the way to college! Special Olympics has a great program in high schools, and now in middle schools called ‘Project Unify’, where athletes and their peers play sports together! All kids want to be accepted by their peers, especially people who have intellectual disabilities.

I struggled for peer acceptance and was verbally bullied when I was a teenager. I was often called ‘retarded’, not by the definition in the dictionary, or my medical diagnosis of Mosaic Down Syndrome, but kids were referring to me as ‘stupid’. I lost a great deal of self-confidence, and suffered for years in silence afraid to stand up for myself.  I joined Special Olympics during my junior year of high school. Competing in my favorite sports, making new friends, and just being in the overall atmosphere made me very comfortable with myself and I gradually restored my self-confidence, and found my passion, and career in Special Olympics. I wouldn’t change anything about my past. I do, however don’t want teenagers with intellectual disabilities to go through the same horrible experiences I went through at their age.  High Schools across the state of Rhode Island are participating in Project Unify sports together. They participate in Best Buddies. Athletes and their typically developing peers are eating lunch together, ‘hanging out’ together outside of school. The ‘Spread The Word To End The R-word’ campaign has made great strides in dropping the word ‘retarded’ from everyday language. Most importantly, they feel accepted, respected and included! It can only get better, and we need your support to back us up!

Another problem people with Intellectual Disabilities face is that they are un-employed, yet very capable of being employed. I never let the fact that I have a disability stop me from pursuing my dreams. When I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I made that dream happen after receiving state certification for teacher assistants at Salve Regina University, and spent nine great years working as a Teacher Assistant at Meeting Street. One of the greatest benefits of working with students who have intellectual disabilities, is that on some level, I could relate to them, since I have one myself!  Besides competing in a variety of sports as an athlete, I have also volunteered for various events for Special Olympics Rhode Island over the years, and developed a dream to work for them some day. This past June, I was offered a full-time job working for them! I am very blessed that my dreams have come true, but my friends deserve to have their dreams come true too. People who have intellectual disabilities learn at a slower rate, but we are not useless. We all have our gifts and talents, and we are capable of bringing them to the workplace, if given the chance. Some work in grocery stores as baggers, and have talents they can use in different work settings. Some of my friends receive services that provide care-takers and transportation that take them to their part-time employment, and they are at risk of getting their services cut.

My younger brother Patrick who has a severe form of autism is a perfect example of a person with an intellectual disability at risk of getting his services cut. As it is, it is tough for him to stay home during a hurricane or snow storm, because he loves being busy and on the go all the time. Patrick is transitioning out of high school, attending a day program for adults who have intellectual disabilities, and eagerly anticipates going to his job placements with his direct service staff while my both my parents work full-time.  With the state of the economy, neither of my parents can afford to be unemployed, or ready to retire. Not only would his services be cut, but the hours he could be at his day placement or receive home support would also be cut. Patrick needs his services. There are many families across the state struggling with the potential budget cuts as well.  We need your support to fight these budget cuts.  My friends who are unemployed deserve to work, and not just rely on their social security checks. I am very grateful to have an apartment next door to my parents, and MANY of my athlete friends who are capable of living on their own wish to do so someday if they can afford it. Please help give them employment, and help them achieve their dreams just like I did! 

Studies show that people who have intellectual disabilities have worst health care than the rest of the population. Some don’t even have a health care plan, because they don’t even have insurance to cover a plan. Thanks to the ‘Healthy Athletes’ program, doctors and specialists take time out of their busy schedules, attend our state summer games, and do screenings with athletes between competitions. From ‘Opening Eyes’ to ‘Special Smiles’, massage therapy, (one of my personal favorites!) Fun Fitness, and Healthy Hearing, both the doctors and athletes enjoy the screenings! It is also important for us to be able to communicate with these specialists and comprehend what they are telling us. When I was younger, going to doctors appointments with my mother were very helpful, especially since she was a nurse for many years. She and the doctor would talk in ‘medical terms’ then they would translate into words I could understand. Now that I am older, wiser, and more independent, some doctors that I see naturally explain things in terms I understand, but if there are things that confuse me, I ask them to explain a little better.  I think about my friends who fall on the moderate to severe spectrums of intellectual disabilities who have a harder time comprehending things, and I think it is VERY important that doctors get to know us through these healthy athlete screenings, and build that communication together. If funding for health insurance isn’t possible, we do need funding to keep the Healthy Athletes program strong and running year-round! Special Olympics Rhode Island is partnering with Memorial Hospital to create a year-round health program that will help our athletes improve their quality of life. Especially for those who don’t have health care plans, and have used their Healthy Athlete screenings as their ‘check ups’. We need the financial support because this is very critical to the health of individuals who have intellectual disabilities!

12 thoughts on “A Message from Mary-Ellen Powers

  1. Mary Ellen, FABULOUS!!!

    Ellen, what a shame that you felt it necessary to use this forum as your soapbox. There is certainly no excuse for abuse, but you took a beautiful statement by a lovely lady and turned it into your own personal rant. Very disappointing. You have robbed Mary Ellen of the experience of delivering a positive statement regarding the many needs of those with intellectual disabilities. Just shut up!

  2. Oh yes…..Ryan…..from what you have responded I can do nothing but liken this situation to another “Sandusky” scenario. It looks like Special Olympics is getting into the habit of turning a blind eye to abuse, sweeping it under the rug & wanting to move on…..and 10, perhaps 15 years later when the victims decide it is time to expose the abuse they had been subjected to & have had to live with for so many years…..it all finally comes out. This is no different…this is the scenario that is bound to happen because Special Olympics is not taking abuse of their athletes seriously.

  3. Ryan…..I am sorry that I did not see this response from you until just now. My husband happened to come upon it. Please do not humor me. The safety of :”our athletes” are absolutely not of the utmost of importance to everyone at Special Olympics. Especially administration at Special Olympics Florida. I know this first hand. You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about! Special Olympics did not review anything! Twice I received a letter from “legal” stating that someone would get back to me…and no one did!!! You may not believe it to be appropriate to discuss this matter on a blog, but I truly beg to differ. If SOFL and SOI handled this situation in the appropriate manner that it needed to be addressed in, there would be no need to be discussing this in this arena! I will have you know that this particular person does have a criminal record & obviously SOFL did not do an “appropriate” background check. I will also have you know that SOFL does not see fit to abide by their “Volunteer Code of Conduct.” It obviously means nothing as if it meant anything they would have know that since it is “an at will arrangement” this person should have been suspended or terminated immediately. Special Olympics had a reputation for wanting to punish the mandatory reporter & for wanting to sweep abuse under the rug! Don’t infuriate me by stating that this incident has been reviewed. Threats were made by SOFL CEO for my son not to discuss this incident. This is like telling an athlete with CP to get out of their wheelchair & run a race. An individual with Autism on the spectrum was told not to discuss what had happened to him at Special Olympics events when this person is mentally distraught from what he was subjected to by one of YOUR Special Olympics volunteers. SOFL strongly believes that if an incident did not happen at a Special Olympics event it does not concern them. Where I come from if a SO volunteer exploits an SO athlete, whether it is at a SO event, or not….this is abusive & needs to be addressed. Why don’t you enter “SPECIAL OLYMPICS LAWSUITS” in your computer search drive & check out what comes up. There have been so many lawsuits against SO across the country because they have chosen to ignore abuse of their athletes & continue to not do diligent background checks on their coaches & volunteers. You are responding to a 16 year SO volunteer that has won many awards & accolades for the work I & my family have done for the Special Olympics movement. We are beyond disillusioned by the behavior of SO administration. If you don’t agree with my discussing my concerns in this particular “forum” then do your homework before you respond. It is disgusting to know that Special Olympics continues to fundraise when a portion of donations goes to a special “private fund to handle lawsuits.” That would never be necessary if they did their due diligence in the first place! Let’s see if you would have responded as you did above if this was a relative of yours!!! I highly doubt it! If even one athlete is in harms way it is one athlete too many! SHAME ON YOU FOR YOUR DUMB ASS RESPONSE! Perhaps you need to “review” the real facts before you respond in an inappropriate, totally ill informed fashion. Your response lacks any knowledge of the real facts….the truth.

  4. I love this speech, and Mary Ellen hit the nail right on the head, and I admire what she’s doing as a teacher. Though I was bullied and was taunted with that accursed “R” word by a some classmates (and it still hurts to this day), I was also harassed by a corrupt High School District who put me under the jurisdiction of a school for the learning disabled (and NOT a very good one at that). I feel that there should be a high school for the learning disabled (a real one, please!). Also, I feel that Special Olympics should add more events and protect their athletes from these sexual parasites who feel that it’s right to take advantage of them. These are human beings, not sideshow freaks!

    • Garrett…thanks so much for your more than important input. You may have a learning disability, but YOU hit the nail on the head. It is people like you who are sharp & have feelings that need to be recognized. You are unique & caring & so happy to hear your input. Yep…..some people “fall between the cracks.” You are also perceptive enough to realize your school district was “corrupt.” Too much of that going around these days! It was good to hear from you that you feel that Special Olympics needs to protect their athletes from “sexual parasites.” Well said. That means a lot coming from you. It is most important that our athletes be protected. They deserve to be treated with respect & dignity & brushing this problem under the rug is unfair, cruel & harmful. Be well & keep expressing your feelings!

  5. Shame on you Ellen K. for grouping some people who make horrible choices in with all the thousands of wonderful and caring volunteers, parents, and athletes that make Special Olympics a great program. This program brings people together that face similar struggles and bonds them as a family. I am proud to be a coach and a local coordinator. All of our volunteers are screened by a mandated system. Have some people fallen through the cracks… maybe, but so have teachers, politicians, and other professions. How dare you make a wonderful speech by a couragious young lady into a polical statement. That is what is disqusting.

    GREAT SPEECH Mary Ellen!!!

    • Shame on you Proud Local Coordinator! Yes, her speech was heartfelt & wonderful!!! There is no doubt about that. Are you the parent of a child or young adult who has special needs? I have been involved in the Special Olympics movement for the past 16 years. I have served as secretary of the CMT, chaperone, volunteer, unified partner, chairperson of many committees, as well, coach and have received several Special Olympics awards. I know the “workings” of Special Olympics very, very well. I could not be prouder of being part of it, prior to my experience that has not only rocked my world but the world of my son & many others throughout the country that are being hurt by policies of Special Olympics. Do you understand that if volunteers who are abusive to athletes continue to be permitted to volunteer….no athlete is ever safe????? The fact that Tim Shriver wants the world to think that Special Olympics is all peaches & cream….it is far from it!! It may be “politics” but shame on people like you & so many of the other county coordinators who are aware of what I am talking about, but just turn a blind eye. Tell me something if it was your child who was abused by someone who is a SO volunteer would you still see things the way you state them in your message to me? I doubt it highly. Additionally, you state that SO bonds families together who face similar struggles. How true. I have experienced that as a parent & volunteer in Special Olympics. I have spent so much of my life advocating for individuals with developmental disabilities. The children & young adults are amazing, many of the family members are the ones that are a detriment to their own loved ones. You have not walked in my shoes or those shoes of a Special Olympics athlete who was abused so until you are, and I hope that is never your experience…..face reality….don’t judge. Additionally, there are many other families who have experienced what I have. If you want to do something good try advocating for the “bad apples” in your organization to get the hell out. If there is one volunteer who is permitted to stay in Special Olympics with the knowledge of county coordinators, CEO’s of SOFL or other SO organizations…..that is one too many!!! Every athlete is at risk!!! It was only through my own personal experience that I became more knowledgeable on how many lawsuits SO has had in reference to abuse that could have been PREVENTED!!!! Wake up & stop seeing the world through rose colored glasses! Take some time to do some research & “google” Special Olympics lawsuits, etc. I think you will be in for a rude awakening! Shame on every darn Special Olympics administrator who outwardly wants you to think they are in it for the athletes while they enjoy their 6 figure incomes & athletes are keeping secrets of abuse for months as they fear YOUR WONDERFUL SPECIAL OLYMPICS VOLUNTEERS!!!

  6. We as a country need to provide any and all support that’s necessary to help people have the best quality of life as possible. I am the grandmother of a twenty month old grandson who has down syndrome, I hope and pray that the world will become a little kinder. Everyday you hear a new story about a group seeking equal and just treatment- how dare we put the rights of the mental or physically challanged on the back burner. I am becoming very impatient with ignorence, and everyone knows NEVER push a grandma! Are best bet is to educate this new generation I am dedicated to do my part.

  7. Lovely speech! Straight from the heart! Now Special Olympics can capitalize on it to get donations. But, let us consider something else, Mr. Tim Shriver. Are your athletes safe when they participate in Special Olympics sports? The answer is a definite NO!!! Special Olympics has shown a totally apathetic attitude in many situations when it comes to the safety of their vulnerable athletes. They have people that are mandatory reporters reporting that there are volunteers that are sexual predators who are dangerous to be around Special Olympics athletes. They have ignored these warnings, which are reported by law, and tried to brush it under the rug! Let’s let the public hear about all the fabulous sports that Special Olympics has to offer, but ignore the fact that they permit volunteers be chaperones, unified partners and coaches & they are not fit to be such. They have abused Special Olympics athletes & this falls on deaf ears & blind eyes in Special Olympics International & Special Olympics Florida & other Special Olympics organizations throughout the country. Let’s face it….The Kennedy’;s have gotten away with a great deal of inappropriate, illegal behavior throughout the years so why should this be any different? Check it out…check to see the lawsuits Special Olympics has dealt with due to their “looking the other way.” Is Special Olympics really what they want everyone to believe? All the wonderful sports programs Special Olympics offer does not mean crap if every athlete is not safe & in harms way!!! Hey….you have “at will” volunteer arrangement…..suspend or terminate a volunteer if there is even a notion that something happened to an athlete, if they are frightened, and have experienced something that rises to the level of abuse…get the hell rid of that volunteer. No way…Special Olympics has shown how disgusting they are when it comes to protecting their athletes. They just don’t want the public to know it!!! SHAME ON SPECIAL OLYMPICS…SHAME ON TIM SHRIVER FOR TURNING A BLIND EYE, along with his legal department & all the other administrative personal that are making huge salaries but can not keep sexual predators away from their athletes!!! Justice will be served & Special Olympics will realize they should have done it right in the first place. Disgusting! Only when it effects their pocketbooks will it possibly have some real meaning!

    • Ellen, thank you for your concern. The safety of our athletes is of utmost importance to everyone at Special Olympics. As you know, Special Olympics Florida has reviewed the incident to which you refer and taken what it deems appropriate action. For the privacy of those involved, we do not believe it is appropriate to discuss the details in this forum. Thank you.

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