WE NEED THE EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER ACT
Dear ABILITY readers,
This summer, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Despite enormous progress over the last two decades, individuals with intellectual disabilities still face challenges on many fronts. They have health problems that many physicians are reluctant to address. In addition, by and large, individuals with intellectual disabilities have few opportunities for exercise and other physical activity. Too often, they continue to be relegated to the fringes of society and denied opportunities for employment.
That is why I recently introduced in the Senate the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act. This important legislation would reauthorize the Special Olympics Sports and Empowerment Act, authorize the Best Buddies program and provide support for additional efforts to include individuals with intellectual disabilities in the fabric of American life.
As we all know, the Special Olympics program is respected around the world as a model and leader in using sports to end the isolation and stigmatization of individuals with intellectual disabilities. For more than 40 years, the Special Olympics has encouraged skill development, sharing, courage and self-confidence through year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Through its programs, the Special Olympics has helped to ensure that millions of individuals with intellectual disabilities have greater opportunities for community participation and inclusive education, as well as better access to appropriate health care. Its aim, more broadly, is simply to make it possible for people with intellectual disabilities to experience life as others do, free of discrimination and exclusion. The Special Olympics gives athletes with intellectual disabilities the tools they need in order to be included in society, and gives society the understanding and tools it needs in order to better include people with disabilities.
The genius of the Special Olympics is that it uses sports to help integrate people with intellectual disabilities into our broader society. The Special Olympics provides an ideal world for individuals with intellectual disabilities—a world that accents abilities, not disabilities. Athletes have the opportunity to compete and achieve on a level playing field on which success is determined by the athlete’s hard work, talent, determination and courage.
In 2006, my state of Iowa hosted the first USA National Summer Games. Thousands of athletes, volunteers, coaches and families attended our Games, in addition to 30,000 fans and spectators. Ames, IA, was transformed into an Olympic Village. It was a thrilling experience that I will never forget.
More importantly, the Special Olympics runs a number of associated programs that I strongly support, including Project UNIFY—which provides inclusive sport opportunities in which individuals with and without disabilities play together on the same team—and Healthy Athletes, which allows participants to receive a variety of important health screenings, assessments and referrals.
Similarly, the Best Buddies program is dedicated to ending the social isolation of people with intellectual disabilities by promoting peer support and friendships with their peers who do not have disabilities. The aim is to increase the self-esteem, confidence and abilities of people with and without intellectual disabilities. Of equal importance, the Best Buddies program provides opportunities for integrated employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Programs such as these help people to overcome their fear and ignorance of individuals with intellectual disabilities. They also empower individuals with disabilities to be competitors and leaders and transform communities by changing attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities.
My proposed legislation also authorizes university-based grants to support research, training and technical assistance. The aim is to improve and advance opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities to fully participate in inclusive sports, recreation and other community activities.
This new bill is named in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who devoted her life to improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Mrs. Shriver founded and fostered the development of the Special Olympics and Best Buddies, both of which celebrate the possibilities of a world where all people, including those with disabilities, have meaningful opportunities for participation and inclusion.
Passage of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Act would benefit millions of people with intellectual disabilities. It also would be a richly deserved tribute to a great American and a passionate advocate for people with disabilities.
Senator Tom Harkin