WASHINGTON - Following the news that Becca Meyers, a six-time Paralympic medalist and member of the U.S.A.’s Paralympics team, withdrew from the team after being denied a reasonable accommodation, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) called on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee as well as the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to take action and ensure that all athletes are able to compete safely and with the necessary accommodations.
Earlier today, Senator Hassan raised the issue at a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing stating, “This is an outrage – and a preventable situation that should never have gotten to this point. So I want the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee to work immediately to address this issue, and I want them to ensure that all of our athletes are able to compete safely at this summer’s games – including by providing them the basic supports that they need just to navigate the world.”
I am writing today regarding disturbing reports detailing inequities that USA Paralympians are facing at this year’s Tokyo Paralympics. This week, Becca Meyers, a six-time Paralympic medalist who won three gold medals in Rio five years ago, withdrew from the upcoming games after being denied access to a personal care attendant as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
Ms. Meyers is deaf-blind, but in the past that hasn’t stopped her from competing – and winning – at the highest levels. But this year, she and other athletes with disabilities are being denied adequate access to personal care assistants. While all Olympic and Paralympic athletes are being impacted this year by COVID-19 safety protocols, athletes must have access to the accommodations necessary for them to safely compete in the games – including access to one-on-one support. Ms. Meyers relies on a personal care attendant to help her navigate new places and to communicate, both essential to her successfully competing in Tokyo. In this particular case, the swim team has been reportedly given one personal care attendant for 33 athletes, including nine with low vision – far too many athletes for one personal care attendant to provide consistent communication and navigation support.
Since the first Paralympic Games in 1960, the Paralympics have served a critical role in giving athletes with disabilities the same experiences and opportunities to compete as their peers without disabilities. These games are invaluable, and demonstrate at a global level what it means for individuals with disabilities to be fully included. Athletes with disabilities are only able to compete at this level when they have access to the necessary supports and accommodations that they need to be successful. They should not be forced to navigate the Tokyo Olympics without the support that they need, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic.
As safety protocols to mitigate COVID-19 are developed and implemented, the essential supports that allow athletes to compete must not fall by the wayside. Too often accommodations for individuals with disabilities are treated as optional instead of necessary – including in places of work, public transportation, and even in hospitals. The Paralympic Games should set an example for the world – setting a level playing field that is only possible when athletes with disabilities receive the services and support that they need to be fully included and to compete.
Ms. Meyers should have never been forced to withdraw from the games because she wasn’t given the necessary support and I strongly urge the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee to work immediately to address this issue. We must ensure that all of our athletes are able to compete safely at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games – including by providing them with necessary accommodations.