Even a much-hyped winter storm in Washington, DC, that shut down much of the nation’s Capital couldn’t deter U.S. Special Olympics and Best Buddies participants and supporters who converged on Capitol Hill yesterday to meet with elected officials, urging continued federal support for programs that enhance the lives of those with intellectual and development disabilities in the areas of health, education and employment.
Throughout the day, Special Olympics athletes and Best Buddies ambassadors from 41 states across the country braved the elements and met with their congressional delegations to advocate for services provided by Special Olympics and Best Buddies that transcend the playing field and transform classrooms, workplaces, and communities.
Delegates advocated for support of The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act of 2013, named after the founder of Special Olympics and the lifelong advocate for the rights and abilities of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The legislation, introduced in the House and Senate on March 6, continues the legacy of Shriver by authorizing critical funds for specific programs supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities through sports, health, education, and employment program initiatives.
In particular, the legislation authorizes continued federal support for the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, which provides free health care screenings, treatment and health education to those with intellectual disabilities, as well as work that both Special Olympics and Best Buddies are doing in thousands of schools across the country to create more inclusive school climates. In addition, the legislation would support efforts by Best Buddies to prepare and place those with intellectual disabilities in the workforce, helping them lead more productive, full and independent lives.
Best Buddies and Special Olympics self-advocates educated lawmakers and their staff about the real and significant social consequences that arise from the stigma and stereotype that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face. They were able to effectively convey the high-impact and cost-effectiveness of Best Buddies and Special Olympics programming that addresses these issues, securing the commitment of 62 bi-partisan legislators as original co-sponsors of the 2013 Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act, as well as many more who pledged their support for the bill and the work it will support.
The bills were introduced by Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Senator Tom Harkin, (D-IA), and Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO).
Representative Hoyer shared a quote from Marylander Frederick Douglass: “Douglass said ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’ That’s what this bill is all about: it is easier to ensure everyone has access to participation, than to have people who are left out of society,” adding, “It is a privilege to be a part of this effort.”
“Special Olympics and Best Buddies programs are critically important to empowering people with intellectual disabilities and helping them to meet their great potential,” said Senator Roy Blunt. “I’m proud to support the expansion and development of these programs, which make a profound difference in the lives of so many Americans with disabilities.”
Senator Tom Harkin commented, “Eunice Kennedy Shriver was a forceful advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. Her longtime support of and commitment to Special Olympics and Best Buddies helped millions of Americans with disabilities live their lives to the fullest,” Harkin said. “The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act honors her legacy by ensuring that these programs can flourish, and in turn, continue to encourage worldwide acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities.”
Eunice Kennedy Shriver dedicated her life to providing opportunities for children and adults with IDD to become fully integrated into society. Shriver, who passed away in August 2009, founded Special Olympics in 1968 and was a longtime advocate and board member of Best Buddies, founded in 1989.
Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Dr. Timothy Shriver: “With more than 200 delegates here on the Hill today, I think the message is clear. The time has come for the Federal Government to recognize a dignity revolution is underway for all citizens: that sports, employment, education, healthcare – these are all needs of a disenfranchised and marginalized population. It’s a critical human rights message that people need to hear.” Shriver added, “Every great civil rights movement has its iconic leader – I think my mother is, for many people with intellectual disabilities, that person. This legislation will continue her legacy and carry forth her vision for a world of inclusion and respect, to communities around the country.”
“Helping our policymakers understand the full potential of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is an honor and privilege,” said Anthony K. Shriver, Founder and Chairman, Best Buddies International. “The Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act, which is designed to address the needs for education, health, and employment programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helps further Best Buddies’ and Special Olympics’ mission of providing opportunities for meaningful inclusion.”
In addition to the important work at hand, the athlete delegates – many of whom had never been to DC or the Capitol, nor had ever met a member of Congress – were excited to walk the halls of Congress, see government in action, and be active participants in changing policy in the U.S.
Kayla McKeon of New York experienced, first hand, what is was like to be in the hot seat of politics on Capitol Hill Day. As Congressman Peter King was called to congress to vote, Kayla was offered to try out his desk for size and see if she could reach the President on the phone.
Kayla is used to pressure as the goalie of her Special Olympics hockey team: on the rink she can often be heard taunting her competitors with her favorite saying “Not in my house.”
Sounds like something a politician might say. But she definitely sounded like a seasoned politician as she stressed the importance of Special Olympics and the profound impact it has had on her life to Members of Congress and staff. Congressman King: be careful not to leave your desk for too long – “Congresswoman Kayla” has a nice ring to it.
Also on March 6, people around the world united their communities to Spread the Word to End the Word®, as supporters participated in the fifth annual ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ awareness day, aimed at ending the hurtful use of the R-word (“retard(ed)”), negatively impacting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more information, visit www.R-word.org.
About Special Olympics:
Special Olympics is an international 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 worldwide. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than 4 million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programs. Special Olympics now take place every day, changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities all over the world, from community playgrounds and ball fields in every small neighborhood’s backyard to World Games. Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy and friendship. Visit Special Olympics at http://www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics; fb.com/specialolympics; youtube.com/specialolympicshq, and specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com.
About Best Buddies International:
Best Buddies® is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1989 by Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant organization that has grown from one original chapter to almost 1,500 middle school, high school, and college chapters worldwide. Today, Best Buddies’ eight formal programs – Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies® , Jobs, Ambassadors, and Promoters – engage participants in each of the 50 states and in 50 countries, positively impacting the lives of nearly 700,000 people with and without disabilities around the world. As a result of their involvement with Best Buddies, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities secure rewarding jobs, live on their own, become inspirational leaders, and make lifelong friendships. For more information, please visit www.bestbuddies.org, facebook.com/bestbuddies or twitter.com/bestbuddies.