Special Olympics Demonstrates Need and Impact to Lawmakers

2014 Capitol Hill Day in U.S.

Taking to the Hill

WASHINGTON, D.C. --  Special Olympics athletes, leaders, and family members from thirty-eight states converged on Capitol Hill for Special Olympics’ 11th annual “Capitol Hill Day” on March 12, 2014. 

Throughout the day, Special Olympics athletes held more than two hundred and fifty face-to-face meetings with their Congressional representatives to advocate for continued federal support for critical health and education services provided by Special Olympics that transcend the playing field and transform classrooms, communities, and lives. Special Olympics self-advocates educated lawmakers and their staffs 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 Special Olympics’ programming that addresses these issues, securing support from numerous bi-partisan legislators.

Turning $1 Into $7

Tanealya Hueth of Montana

Montana athlete Tanealya Hueth brought the economic efficiency of Special Olympics’ critical health initiatives to life by asking members of Congress for one dollar, then pulling out seven dollars with her other hand, saying, “when you give us one dollar, Special Olympics provides more than seven dollars worth of health services to its athletes.  I’d say that’s a good return on investment.”  No lawmakers disagreed. 

 Special Olympics CEO Janet Froetscher accompanied delegations throughout the day, her first Capitol Hill Day since becoming CEO of the organization in October of 2013. 

“There is no one more qualified than our athlete leaders to tell the compelling stories of transformation and impact that Special Olympics makes possible in people’s lives,” said Froetscher. “They conveyed loud and clear that they deserve the same access to quality health care, education and community inclusion as anyone else.”

Bestowing Our Highest Honor

L-R: Special Olympics Iowa President Hal Pittman, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) – recipient of the prestigious “Spirit of Special Olympics” award, Special Olympics athlete Jennifer Wardlow, and longtime colleague of Senator Harkin and fellow champion in the fight for the rights of people with disabilities, Senator Orrin Hatch.

Capitol Hill Day culminated in a special ceremony, where Senator Tom Harkin (D, Iowa) was presented with Special Olympics’ highest and most rare honor, the “Spirit of Special Olympics Award.” 

Senator Orrin Hatch (R, Utah), Special Olympics Chairman Dr. Timothy Shriver, and Special Olympics athlete David Egan paid tribute to Senator Harkin, with Special Olympics North Carolina athlete Jennifer Wardlow presenting the award. Harkin is the first U.S. legislator to ever receive the award. 

The award was in recognition of Harkin’s exemplary, career-spanning contributions to the Special Olympics movement and the positive impact he has had on the lives of millions of Americans with intellectual disabilities through his leadership and advocacy.  Harkin’s critical role in the introduction and passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, often referred to as the "Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities" is often considered his signature legislative achievement. 

“Special Olympics is about possibility – and the recognition of what children and adults with disabilities can achieve when given the opportunity,” said Harkin. “The vision of Eunice Kennedy Shriver has grown to become an integral part of the lives of more than four million current athletes with intellectual disabilities across the world. From those informal Summer camps in 1962, Special Olympics has blossomed into an organization that raises awareness about disability, improves the health of those who participate, creates connections and support among families, and promotes community inclusion for all people with disabilities. I am honored to receive the ‘Spirit of Special Olympics’ award and to be a partner in Special Olympics’ mission.” 

Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Dr. Timothy Shriver: "Every great civil rights movement has its iconic leader – my mother (Special Olympics Founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver) was, for many people with intellectual disabilities, such a person. But there was one in person in particular who she recognized as a fearless partner in her fight for equality, and that person is Senator Tom Harkin.  Few have done more to fight for a world of inclusion and respect for all citizens." Shriver added “Generations of people with disabilities will benefit from Senator Harkin’s work, and it’s time for the Federal Government to recognize that the dignity revolution cannot be stopped: that sports, employment, education, healthcare - these are all needs of a disenfranchised and marginalized population. We call on Congress to continue and expand the work Senator Harkin has championed throughout his career.”