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Special Olympics and Best Buddies International Urge Congress- "Don't Send People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities into the Dark"

For Immediate Release

David Egan, Booz Allen Hamilton employee and Special Olympics Global Messenger and athlete, testifies before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Senate Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Special Olympics and Best Buddies International joined together yesterday on Capitol Hill to urge members of the House and Senate to continue a national commitment by the U.S. Congress to support both programs through partial funding. More than 225 participants were joined by Timothy P. Shriver, Special Olympics Chairman and CEO, and Anthony K. Shriver, Best Buddies International Founder and Chairman, as they met face-to-face with Members of Congress in more than 200 scheduled meetings throughout the day. The group, made up of people with and without intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), advocated for the passing of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act of 2011 and the re-appropriating of crucial seed funding for their health, education and employment programs. 

The authorization of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act of 2011 will reaffirm the U.S. Congress’ support that was initially made with passage of the Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act of 2004 and the Best Buddies Empowerment for People with Intellectual Disabilities Act of 2009. This new legislation continues the legacy of Mrs. Shriver by authorizing funds to help support specific programs for persons with IDD, such as Special Olympics Healthy Athletes®, Special Olympics Project UNIFY®,  Best Buddies High Schools and Best Buddies Jobs.

“People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are the most underserved population today. While our Members of Congress are faced with difficult decisions regarding appropriations, it is critical they understand that Special Olympics and Best Buddies are the sole sources of vital health screenings, inclusive school programs and job placement for this population,” said Timothy Shriver. “Without federal seed money, more than 500,000 Special Olympics athletes in the U.S. will be without services they depend on to battle the centuries of neglect in the medical field as well as the silent epidemic of discrimination found on school yards and playing fields across our country.” 

“It was fantastic that so many Best Buddies and Special Olympics participants joined us on the Hill in support of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act of 2011,” said Anthony K. Shriver. “They are truly the best ambassadors to advocate for continued federal support of our friendship, health, education, leadership--and last but certainly not least--employment programs. I know that when our nation includes people of all abilities, we strengthen our schools, our workplaces, and our communities. We need Congress to recognize that by continuing to provide the funding vital to the programs that support all of us in attaining a truly inclusive nation.”

Earlier yesterday morning, Booz Allen Hamilton employee and Special Olympics Global Messenger and athlete, David Egan testified in front of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Senate Committee on the ability and skills people with IDD have and the impact Special Olympics had on his ability to secure employment for the past 15 years.

 “… people in the world have more in common than we think. When I was 12, I was dreaming of winning the race in Special Olympics. But now, I dare to dream about changing the way people think, changing the perceptions, opening doors for people with disabilities—not only on the court but in the workplace and at all levels of our society. Employing individuals with intellectual disabilities is a smart business decision and a social responsibility,” said Egan.

The day culminated in a reception to honor the living legacy of the late Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver. During the reception, Timothy and Anthony Shriver presented awards to Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) for successfully passing Rosa’s Law—signed by President Obama in October of 2010—which replaced the words “mental retardation” in all federal legislation with “intellectual disability.”  Many other members of congress attended the reception as a show of their support, including: Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Senator Dan Coats (R-IN),  Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).

Additional highlights of the annual Special Olympics and Best Buddies International Capitol Hill Day included:

• University of Miami Buddy Director, Martin White, and his congressional representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) poured over his Best Buddies scrapbook, which highlighted the chapter’s friendships and activities. When they were done, the congresswoman asked him to invite her to their next group outing.

• Special Olympics Arizona athletes, Best Buddies participants and Bob Gobrecht, President and Managing Director of Special Olympics North America presented Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’(D-AZ) staff with a framed picture of their meeting from last year’s Capitol Hill Day as well as a card of well-wishes for her full recovery. The staff was moved by this gesture and promised to send the gift to Houston where the congresswoman is working on her rehabilitation after she was critically wounded from a gunshot to the head earlier this year.

• A photo exhibit by world-renowned photographer, Richard Corman, who has been capturing the spirit of Special Olympics athletes for 20 years, is on display in the Russell Senate Building rotunda. The 16 images in the gallery capture the beauty, happiness and acceptance that the Special Olympics Movement creates throughout the world.

• Guests of the reception took time to sign the Spread the Word to End the Word® pledge banner, in recognition of the campaign’s day of awareness, which also took place on Wednesday. Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort by Special Olympics and Best Buddies International to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to change the conversation but using the new R-word—RESPECT.

Many Special Olympics and Best Buddies programs rely on federal funding to provide vital services to persons with IDD and their families, including the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program, Project UNIFY education program, and Best Buddies friendship, employment  and leadership programs.

The Healthy Athletes program is designed to help Special Olympics athletes improve their health and fitness, leading to an enhanced sports experience and improved well-being. The program has provided more than one million free health screenings to athletes and delivered desperately needed services, education, and referrals.

Project UNIFY is a program which builds Special Olympics in schools and is engaging, motivating and activating young people through many existing programs including: Special Olympics Get Into It™ a K-12 service-learning curriculum, Special Olympics Unified Sports™ and the Spread the Word to End the Word® campaign, which looks to build respect through language.

Best Buddies friendship programs (Best Buddies Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens and e-Buddies) match students and adults with IDD in one-to-one friendships with their typical peers for mutual mentoring and social skills training.

Best Buddies Jobs is a supported employment program that helps people with IDD secure competitive, paying jobs. The program targets job sites, competitively places individuals, and promotes ongoing support and training.   

Best Buddies Ambassadors educates and empowers people with IDD to be leaders and public speakers in their schools, communities, and workplaces.

For photos or additional information, please contact mamurphy@specialolympics.org or  heatherschatz@bestbuddies.org

About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is an international organization that changes lives 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 nearly 3.5 million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition health screenings, and other related programs.  Special Olympics now takes place every day, changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in all regions of the world and in community playgrounds and ball fields in every small neighborhood’s backyard.  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 www.specialolympics.org.

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’ seven formal programs – Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Citizens, e-Buddies® , Jobs and Ambassadors – 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.


Mandy Murphy
Special Olympics Inc.
+1 (202) 824-0227

Heather Schatz
Best Buddies
+1 (305) 374-2233 x 207