Incapacity advocates calling for reform as US Paralympian Becca Meyers drops out of Video games citing lack of help
Disability advocates and elected officials are calling on the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committees to reconsider its policies after a Paralympic gold medalist was denied an application to allow a nursing assistant to travel to Tokyo due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Becca Meyers’ ordeal also speaks to the larger problem of disability inequalities, lawyers say.
The 26-year-old Meyers, who is blind and deaf, was scheduled to compete with the women’s swim team at the Paralympics in Tokyo in August and asked her mother to join her as a personal care assistant. Assistants will be assigned to help the athlete navigate the Olympic Village and perform any other duties that are restricted due to their disability.
Meyers, who won three gold medals in the 2016 Games, announced that she had decided to retire from the team after the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee rejected her application, citing COVID-19 restrictions on the Number of personnel it was able to dispatch to Tokyo.
Rebecca Meyers of the USA wins the women’s 400m freestyle S13 final on the first day of the Allianz World Para Swimming Championships 2019 in London, September 9, 2019, in London.
“I’m angry, I’m disappointed, but most of all I’m sad not to represent my country,” she wrote in a statement posted on Twitter.
The news stunned the Paralympic and disabled community as they had been looking forward to their swim for over five years, Kristin Duquette, a former Team USA swimmer and disability rights attorney, told ABC News.
Duquette, who works as a standby officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and suffers from muscular dystrophy, admitted the difficulties COVID-19 brings in keeping athletes safe during the two-week event, but said the USOPC could have easily followed Meyers ‘ Inquiry.
“It’s a blemish on USOPC’s efforts to be inclusive and diverse,” she told ABC News.
The committee defended its decision in a statement released on Wednesday, citing strict COVID-19 restrictions. It added that the US Paralympics swim team has been assigned a single personal care assistant who “has more than 27 years of coaching experience, including 11 years with para swimmers”.
“This PCA joins a team of 10 other accomplished swimming professionals, all of whom have experience with blind swimmers; a total of 11 employees for 34 athletes,” USOPC said in a statement.
Meyers noted that her mother has accompanied her to events as her personal care assistant since 2017 and was essential for her to take part in competitions.
Rebecca Meyers from the United States competes in the Women’s 400m Freestyle – S13 Final during day 5 of the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, September 12, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro.
Duquette, who is friends with Meyers, emphasized that an athlete’s personal hygiene assistant is trained to help with specific limitations caused by a Paralympic’s particular disability. She noted that Meyers is the only member of Team USA who is both blind and deaf.
“Traveling comes with a lot of fears. Having a personal care assistant really depends on your disability,” she said.
Meyers’ announcement sparked calls from Congress to meet the needs of the American Paralympists.
US Sens. Maggie Hassan, DN.H., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., Both urged the committee to reconsider its rules.
Hassan sent a letter to the USOPC reminding that many disabled Americans are already facing too many hurdles in athletics and this should set an example for the rest of the world.
Move United, a nonprofit group that promotes parasports, also urged the committee to reconsider its policies in light of the limited resources available to Paralympics.
“As a community, we too often face inadequate resources to do our best and when that happens we should stand up for our rights of access and housing,” the group said in a statement to ABC News. “We are sad that Becca Meyers will not take part in the Paralympics next month.”
Duquette said the coronavirus has compounded the daily troubles faced by the disabled community. From shelters to support deaf people who cannot lip-read through a mask to difficulty transitioning to a home-based environment, the community has had added psychological stress in addition to fears of contracting the virus.
“Disability is at the bottom when we think of diversity and inclusion,” she said.
Duquette said she hopes this situation will open more Americans’ eyes to disability rights and inspire change beyond the sports world.
“Hopefully this is a study lesson,” she said. “But that’s at the expense of someone’s dream.”