Guest Blog: Will You Choose to Include?

By Grace Hightower DeNiro, Special Olympics New York Board Member

There is an entire community in this country that continues to be overlooked and underappreciated: people with disabilities.

This community makes up approximately 26 percent of our national population – one in every four Americans – and yet they are so often the last ones we think about when we enact new laws, structure school days, determine fair wages … the list goes on.

I recently moderated a panel discussion commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act that included leaders and athletes from Special Olympics New York, Unified Champion Schools and Paralympics. Our conversation revealed that while the ADA has accomplished a great deal of equity for this community, shocking disparities persist. We are addressing them with a new campaign.

When you hear the words “athlete” or “champion,” whose image comes to mind?

It’s probably not my son, Elliot, a dedicated tennis player who works so hard to be competitive. It’s probably not any one of the other 68,000 Special Olympics New York athletes either, like Trent Hampton, who runs a 4:35-minute mile, or Daniel Fletcher, who bench presses 350 pounds.

Why is that? Part of the reason is because you don’t hear about their achievements in the media, or see their faces in commercials or other advertisements.

Except on rare occasions, mainstream sports media and our largest name brands have denied people with disabilities a platform. One in four Americans don’t see people like them on TV.

Beyond being authentic champions in their sports, Special Olympics New York athletes have so many admirable qualities to share; talent, tenacity, determination, kindness and confidence. They should be our role models. This is who the next generation should look up to.

Special Olympics New York has launched a campaign we’re calling “Your Brand Here.” It’s a campaign that challenges major brands to sponsor our athletes in the same way that professional athletes are typically sponsored.

They play the same sports, under the same rules and regulations. They work just as hard, if not harder, to be the best and earn the top prize.

Special Olympics New York athletes have won many gold, silver and bronze medals on their way to becoming champions. But any one of them will tell you; for them it’s not the medals that are the prize. It’s the journey.

We invite you to be a part of the journey. Sponsor these amazing athletes. You (and your consumers) will be glad you did.

To learn more about the Your Brand Here campaign from Special Olympics New York, visit specialolympicsny.org/your-brand-here.