During recent days we have had the honor as part of a U.S. Presidential Delegation to accompany more than 150 U.S. Special Olympians to the 2013 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. In addition to the Opening Ceremonies of the games on Tuesday, the Presidential Delegation had a unique chance to spend time with the athletes and view some of the events.
While we have made a special effort to cheer on the U.S. athletes on behalf of the President, the Special Olympics is about far more than winning – it’s about encouraging diversity, celebrating inclusion and recommitting to the human rights of persons with disabilities around the world.
People with disabilities come from all walks of life, genders, every social class, and all religious traditions. Most of us have a family member, friend or acquaintance with a disability. People with disabilities make tremendous contributions to our society, to our families, to our neighborhoods – adding to the diversity that makes America a unique and special place to call home.
But we also know that too often, communities struggle to include people with disabilities. We frequently define success too narrowly, forgetting that all people have great potential to contribute to our society. This way of thinking excludes people with disabilities in the classroom, in the workplace and in the community.
President Obama has made a pointed commitment to ensuring people with disabilities are included in every facet of life – including at school and in the workplace. In 2010, the President issued Executive Order 13548, to be sure those with disabilities are included in the workforce of the United States Government. Last Friday, the President and Education Secretary Arne Duncan took an historic step to ensure that kids with disabilities aren’t left out in activities and on sports teams in U.S. schools.
We believe that through efforts like these and by raising awareness in communities across the country, the United States has much to offer in affirming the basic human rights of people with disabilities around the world. We know that barriers to equal enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities are many and varied. Pervasive discrimination leads to lack of access to basic public services, education and employment opportunities, political disenfranchisement, forced institutionalization and segregation, and poverty.
Disability-inclusive approaches to education, employment, and public services assure that people with disabilities are able to exercise their rights as full and equal participants in their societies. The Special Olympics stand as a wonderful example of this inclusiveness.
Over the course of this week, the U.S. Presidential Delegation has experienced the lasting power of the Special Olympics movement to promote awareness and appreciation of the human rights of those with disabilities.
The Games provide, through athletic competition, a unique path to strengthening civil rights – as they have for more than four decades. We have witnessed amazing things from Special Olympians who are pushing hard to meet and exceed their best. All of the athletes remind us that every person has potential, and that we can all strive for the utmost success in our endeavors.