July 21, 2021
Sarah Hirshland, Chief Executive Officer
U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
Dear Mrs. Hirshland:
My name is Eric Bridges, and I am contacting you in my capacity as the Executive Director of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). Founded in 1961, ACB is a member-driven national 501(c)(3) organization that strives to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life for all people who are blind and experiencing vision loss, including people who are deaf-blind. ACB and our members are deeply concerned regarding the media reports of the treatment of Paralympian Rebecca Meyers by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC).
On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, the Washington Post published an article outlining the circumstances resulting in Rebecca Meyers removing herself from the U.S. delegation for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. In reading the Washington Post article, ACB is alarmed that the USOPC, a congressionally chartered non-profit, might be in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by not providing primary consideration to the accommodation request of a person with a disability.
The situation involving Rebecca Meyers is occurring while people with disabilities and Americans with vision loss encounter persistent barriers to sport, physical fitness, and lack accessible healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness for working-age adults, and according to the National Health Interview Survey, people with vision loss are at higher risk for chronic health conditions such as obesity and heart disease. No one has been impacted more by the COVID-19 pandemic than people with disabilities, and we understand that pandemic protocols are necessary for the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. However, it is unacceptable to refer to the provision of an individual’s reasonable accommodation, which is necessary for their full inclusion and success, as the athlete’s choice, or imply that participating without a reasonable accommodation, such as a personal care attendant, are the consideration of the athletes alone. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Justice has provided clear guidance that the COVID-19 pandemic does not exempt covered entities from their obligations to honor the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. For these reasons, ACB cannot stand by while there is cause to believe the civil rights of an individual excelling at the pinnacle of human and sport performance are being violated.
ACB requires an immediate response to this inquiry. Our members and all current and future Paralympians representing the United States deserve to know how the USOPC and Paralympic National Governing Bodies handle specific disability-related accommodation requests that they receive from all individuals engaging with the USOPC, including but not limited to: athletes, employees, contractors, visitors, and volunteers. Please respond to me in writing or request a time to speak regarding this issue by Friday, July 23.
cc: Christopher Cleary, General Counsel
Julie O’Neill Dussliere, Chief of Paralympic Sport
Rick Adams, Chief of Sport Performance and NGB Services
Bahati VanPelt, Chief of Athlete Services
Nitra Rucker, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Susanne Lyons, Chair of the Board of Directors