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Belgium Athlete Addresses Experts at European Forum

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(l-r) The Special Olympics team Lieve Meurisse, Martha Jo Braycich and Micheline Van Hees with panel discussion moderator Dharmenda Khanani, from the European Foundation Centre.
Special Olympics Belgium athlete Micheline Van Hees spoke to 90 disability experts at the European Foundation Forum for Inclusion on June 22, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. The audience was very attentive as Van Hees described how years ago she persevered in finding a local swimming club to accept her and once she did, what belonging to the club and being part of Special Olympics meant to her. “I wanted to learn to swim and to make friends but the local club did not want me because they said I was not good enough,” Van Hees explained. She eventually met a Special Olympics Belgium coach who welcomed her to his group of swimmers. In her club not only did she develop into a competitive swimmer and coach assistant but she said: “I gained friends and a family.” Van Hees, who is a Special Olympics Belgium board member and the athlete representative for the Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia Leadership Council (EELC) was speaking as part of the conference’s panel discussion on “Empowering Access to Culture and Leisure.” She was joined on the panel by her swimming coach Lieve Meurisse, and Martha Jo Braycich, Senior Director, Community Impact Initiatives, Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia. Meurisse highlighted what needs to be done to improve accessibility including access to more facilities and equipment, more transportation and personal assistance, more dissemination of information about opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities, and more platforms to show the public what Special Olympics athletes can do. Braycich said: “Special Olympics is a concept that facilitates accessibility - offering a person a lifetime of opportunities to participate in sports. However, accessibility cannot be achieved in a vacuum. It is an inclusive endeavor which calls upon all of us to work together so that no one needs to be left on the sidelines.”

About Me:

Martha Jo Braycich is the Senior Director, Community Impact Initiatives, Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia.