Special Olympics athletes, organization leaders, Unified Sports partners, family members, and supporters from across the United States will engage virtually on February 10 and 11 for Special Olympics’ annual “Capitol Hill Day.” This is the 19th year Special Olympics has organized the event, which includes over 500 delegates representing 48 states, and is being held for the first time 100% virtually. Additionally, supporters are rallying virtually to contact their Members of Congress through a VoterVoice campaign to ask for continued support of Special Olympics.
Special Olympics athletes will lead more than 300 virtual meetings with Members of Congress in both the House and Senate, inviting their elected officials to partner with them to support inclusive education and health initiatives for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools® programming is in over 7,800 schools across the United States, with a goal of being in over 10,000 schools by 2024. Special Olympics is also working towards ending health care disparities for Americans with ID. Under the current federal funding agreement that started in 2016, Special Olympics has reached more than 207,000 Special Olympics U.S. athletes with inclusive health programming, with a goal of reaching at least 500,000 by 2025. Typically, Special Olympics U.S. Programs travel to Washington, D.C. each February to meet with their state’s Members of Congress in person. However, due to COVID-19, all meetings will be held virtually for Capitol Hill Day 2021.
Special Olympics athletes, serving as self-advocates, will educate lawmakers and their staff about the stigma faced by people with ID, and how high-impact and cost-effective Special Olympics programming in sports, health, and education can reduce discrimination. The advocates will also request continued support from legislators for evidence-based programming that benefits all Americans, regardless of ability.
Florida’s delegation will consist of Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock and Daniel Fundora, an athlete from Miami-Dade County. Fundora has been part of Special Olympics Florida for more than 20 years and is a former Florida Athlete of the Year.
“Daniel, like so many of our athletes, is an incredible advocate for our mission,” Wheelock said. “Capitol Hill Day is a great opportunity for him and other athletes to explain the life-changing power of inclusion and the importance of creating a world that respects and values people with intellectual disabilities.”
“Our athletes and youth leaders are on the front lines, tearing down barriers which have discriminated against people with intellectual disabilities for far too long. While they are working to build a more inclusive framework, they need the critical funding the U.S. government provides to fortify this structure, creating a brighter future for all,” said Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics. Shriver added, “Additionally, we are seeking the U.S. government’s support to preserve laws guaranteeing the full rights, participation, and integration of people with intellectual disabilities into our society.”
The record high 500-plus delegates will be joined by a record high number of Special Olympics Global and Champion Ambassadors including Brooklyn Decker Roddick, Mack Hollins, Maureen McCormick, John C. McGinley, Dale Moss, Apolo Ohno, and Dalton Risner.
The versatility of the two-day virtual event will give many their first experience of being part of the annual Capitol Hill Day event, including long-time supporter of Special Olympics Brooklyn Decker Roddick. “For too long, I have watched people with intellectual disabilities be treated as less than equal. I am excited and honored to participate in my first Capitol Hill Day alongside Special Olympics athletes as we advocate to decision-makers for health and education funding, ensuring people with intellectual disabilities, people like my aunt, are treated with respect and dignity.”
In more than 7,800 Unified Champion Schools across the country, Special Olympics has trained and mobilized youth leaders and educators to create more inclusive schools by including students with ID in all aspects of school life. Social inclusion is promoted by bringing together young people with and without ID on sports teams (Special Olympics Unified Sports®), through whole-school engagement opportunities, and by fostering inclusive youth leadership. As many as 3.6 million young people are taking part in these experiences in 49 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, which are increasing acceptance of people of all abilities while simultaneously reducing stigma and bullying.
Special Olympics offers critical health programming where Special Olympics athletes can receive free health screenings and year-round health and fitness interventions, and where health professionals are trained to treat people with ID to increase access to quality care for people with ID in their communities. In the U.S., Special Olympics has provided over 1 million health screenings and trained over 133,000 health care professionals. Almost 100,000 athletes participate in ongoing fitness interventions that can improve blood pressure. Globally, Special Olympics has provided over 2 million free health screenings in over 135 countries and trained nearly 280,000 health care professionals on how to treat people with ID.
In addition to federal U.S. government funding, Special Olympics also receives funds from private foundations, corporations, and individuals. Public and private support is critical for Special Olympics to offer education and health programming to participants at no cost. Special Olympics encourages individuals to contact their Members of Congress using a VoterVoice campaign with the ask to support Special Olympics.
- Urgency Meets Impact: Support for Special Olympics Health and Unified Champion Schools
- Special Olympics Florida Fact Sheet