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Special Olympics Delegates Make Case of Impact and Need on Capitol Hill

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1968 Games athlete Sandy Dearth of Alabama with Tim Shriver
Special Olympics athletes, leaders, and family members from 39 states converged on Capitol Hill on February 10 for Special Olympics’ 14th annual “Capitol Hill Day.” Throughout the day, Special Olympics athletes from across the nation held 290 face-to-face meetings with Members of Congress in both the House and Senate to advocate for continued federal support for critical health and education services provided by Special Olympics.

These services transcend the playing field and are transforming the lives of 700,000 US athletes and families. Special Olympics athletes, serving as self-advocates, educated lawmakers and their staffs about the significant consequences that arise from the stigma and stereotypes that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face. They described how that impacts their lives in the areas of sports, health care, education, and employment. The goal of Capitol Hill Day was to effectively convey the high-impact and cost-effectiveness of Special Olympics’ evidence-based programming that addresses these issues, and to secure continued support from legislators.

“We look forward to the US Government’s continued partnership with Special Olympics to support Americans with intellectual disabilities,” said Mary Davis, Acting Chief Executive Officer of Special Olympics. Davis added, “After my first Capitol Hill Day with Special Olympics, I am confident that our excellent partnership will continue to raise awareness and catalyze support for more inclusive communities from the US Government as well as from governments around the globe who see the impact that health and education programs are having in the US. Special Olympics has been a leader in connecting people with intellectual disabilities and encouraging greater understanding and inclusion around the world.”

Highlights of this year’s Capitol Hill Day event included:
· The participation of athletes and delegates from the Navajo Nation from Arizona – the first time a Native American Nation has taken part in the event.
· Sandy Dearth of Alabama, who competed in the very first Special Olympics Games in Chicago, IL in 1968, was a delegate and was praised by Special Olympics Chairman Dr. Timothy P. Shriver as one of the athlete “pioneers” of the Movement and a role model for continuing to advocate for the needs of her fellow athletes.
· Three Special Olympics athletes participated who have government relations experience and are vocal advocates for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. David Egan of Virginia is the first person with an intellectual disability to be awarded a Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation Public Policy Fellowship. He has testified before Congress and spoken at the United Nations. Dustin Plunkett of California is a global ambassador for Special Olympics and served as an ESPN analyst providing coverage during the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in L.A. Plunkett is now an employee of Special Olympics Southern California and works with their government relations efforts. South Carolina athlete Rachel Lewis competed for and won an internship in US Senator Tim Scott’s Greenville office.

Capitol Hill Day concluded with a private reception at the Library of Congress for participating Special Olympics athletes and their state delegations.

In over 4,000 schools across the country, Special Olympics has trained and mobilized youth leaders to include students with intellectual disabilities in all aspects of school life. Students with and without intellectual disabilities are also playing and competing together on the same teams. These experiences are helping to increase acceptance of all abilities to classrooms across the country, and are reducing stigma and bullying. Health exams, treatment and referrals (vision, hearing, dentistry, podiatry, and mobility), and education, including nutrition, are being provided to Special Olympics athletes at Games and competitions to ensure their health on the playing field. Thousands of volunteers, staff and clinical practitioners are providing essential health care that is otherwise often unavailable to people with intellectual disabilities due to the lack of trained health care providers and facilities. These volunteers are learning new skills that are helping the medical community to reach people with intellectual disabilities in their own communities with critical health care.

About Me:

Director, Marketing and Communications, Special Olympics North America