Defunding Special Olympics takes away opportunities
“We are not doing our children any favors when we borrow from their future in order to invest in systems and policies that are not yielding better results.” Now, your first thought upon reading this quote may be that someone is stealing candy from our children's hands to develop a machine to bring dinosaurs back from the dead, find the last number of pi or discover the Fountain of Youth. I wish that this was actually the case. Instead, this was said by Betsy DeVos, the head of the United States Department of Education, in a prepared testimony before a House subcommittee considering the Department of Education’s budget request for the next fiscal year in regards to the usefulness of special-needs programs. Her new plan entails creating a tax cut for individuals and companies to encourage them to donate to private school scholarships and adding an additional $60 million to charter school funding. Aside from the obscene elitism behind this addition, the real disgust is that she is eliminating $18 million of funding from the Special Olympics.
Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. It was established in 1946 under the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Its primary purpose was to help redefine how society cares for people with intellectual disabilities and disseminate methods of intellectual disability prevention through research. This was the first foundation to focus directly on disabled people, a neglected group within society. In 1947, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was awarded as a trustee of the JPK Jr. Foundation. In June 1962, she opened a summer camp for young people with intellectual disabilities at her home in suburban Washington, D.C. What was then known as “Shriver Camp” welcomed dozens of young people from local institutions and agencies; campers ranged in age from about six to sixteen. In July 1962, a second day camp for children with intellectual disabilities opened in Washington, D.C. In November 1966, Eunice Kennedy Shriver proposed “nationwide sports contests” between teams of young people with intellectual disabilities. On July 20, 1928 the first International Special Olympics Summer Games was held at Soldier Field in Chicago. At its start, the Special Olympics only offered three official sports: swimming, track and field and floor hockey. Currently, it has more than 30 individual and team official sports ranging from equestrian and cricket to powerlifting and judo.
When Shriver was first proposing this seemingly radical athletic event, she was told that she was highly ambitious and expecting too much of disabled people. Most did not think they were capable of such extreme exercise, creating a list of possible injuries and accidents. Yet once these athletes began to compete, their success proved all the naysayers wrong. The ability to compete has given disabled individuals an opportunity to be a different member in our society, essentially allowing them to be seen as nothing more than athletes wanting to pursue their passion. Kiera Byland is a 20-year-old Englishwoman who always had a passion for cycling. Growing up, it was hard for her to ride a bike because her brain processes information at a slower rate than average. Yet she loved it too much to quit, and so she trained for years for the ability to compete. In the 2019 Abu Dhabi Games, Byland won the gold for England in her opening race. The Special Olympics gave Byland, and so many others similar and different to her, a platform to let them experience their passion; this is an equalizing domain made to make no athlete feel different from any others, disabled or not.
These games do not just inspire disabled athletes, but most who know about them. I am inspired to see people who have societal stigma, physical and mental disabilities working against them train, practice and diet so furiously. Their hunger to succeed and do what they love makes me want to do the same. In 2015, Ben Heitmeyer was the first athlete with Down syndrome to compete in the first triathlon in Special Olympics World Games history. Lisa Rumer, a triathlon coach, recalls Heitmeyer’s race, “Anyone that was there race day took home a memory of determination, inclusion and support. It was the most exciting inspiring event I have ever witnessed and been a part of. Ben was an inspiration. He knew his coaches and family were counting on him. He gave all of us a sense of we can do it because we have each other.” Heitmeyer completed 12 miles on bike, 750m in the water and 3.1 miles running. "You just have to smile with so much joy when you see him do that," said Rumer. "Before he even gets to that corner, when you hear he's a half-mile out, you get so excited because you know he's going to live the dream of being proud of himself — and everyone responding to that." The Special Olympics is a positive, internationally unifying event. It brings people together, with 172 countries participating, under the common belief that there are no limits on what anyone can do. No matter who you are, you should be given the opportunity to carry out your passion to the fullest extent, and the Special Olympics is the epitome of this right.
Beyond mere athletics, businesses and individuals continuously support the cause. John’s Crazy Socks donates five percent of their profits to the Special Olympics. John has Down syndrome, so finding a job after he graduated high school in 2016 was going to be tough, until he and his dad went into the sock industry together. They spend their days making fun, creative socks and have even created “awareness” versions such as Autism-themed and Down syndrome-themed socks. John is a key example of what the Special Olympics symbolizes beyond athletics. He is an individual who had a dream and instead of sitting idle, and leaped at the opportunity to succeed through hard work.
Despite all this, DeVos is going to crush people like Byland, Heitmeyer and John with her budget. Aside from significantly cutting the Special Olympics, DeVos is cutting special education grants that go to states from $3 million to $2.2 million, which is a 26 percent cut. She is cutting $7.5 million from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, $13 million from Gallaudet University, a charter school for the deaf, and $5 million from a federal program for print books for blind students. She is specifically targeting disabled students who need the money, resources and support the most. These programs do nothing but inspire these children and the general public to strive for the gold and never give up their passions. Although they do not want to give up their passion, DeVos is depriving them of the fiscal means, forcing them to do so.
Special Olympics released a response which said, “We ask federal, state and local governments to join Special Olympics in remaining vigilant against any erosion of provisions that have made a substantial difference in the lives of people with Intellectual Disabilities. U.S. Government funding for our education programming is critical to protecting and increasing access to services for people with intellectual disabilities.” This wholesome organisation wants to give disabled individuals a chance to live their dreams, it is not harming anyone or causing problems. In all actuality, Special Olympics has to be their voice because they cannot speak for fear that they will not be heard.
Enough is enough, DeVos; pick on someone your own size.