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Deaf-Blind U.S. Athlete Quits Team After Paralympic Committee Refuses Basic Accommodation In Tokyo

Deaf-Blind U.S. Athlete Quits Team After Paralympic Committee Refuses Basic Accommodation In Tokyo
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Six-time Paralympic medalist Becca Meyers, who is deaf and blind, has made the "gut wrenching" decision to withdraw from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics because the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) refused to allow her request for accommodation.

Meyers tweeted her decision on July 20, with a photo of the full statement sent to the committee.

Her tweet read:

""I'm angry, I'm disappointed, but most of all, I'm sad to not be representing my country."

Meyers was born with Usher Syndrome, a genetic disorder that left her deaf from birth and progressively took her eye sight.

Meyers requires a Personal Care Assistant (PCA) to attend her meets, specifically one that she trust, after an incident at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics where she was unable to find the dining area, leaving her sobbing in her room.

She requested her mother as her PCA, as she attends all of her competitions. However, the USOPC is limiting the number of PCA's due to COVID precautions.

Regardless, one single PCA to accommodate 33 of Paralympic swimmers, 9 of which are also visually impaired, will not meet the needs according to Meyers.

In an interview with Washington Post, Meyers explained how difficult this decision was for her:

"I would love to go to Tokyo."
"Swimming has given me my identity as a person. I've always been Becca the Swimmer Girl."
"I haven't taken this lightly. This has been very difficult for me."
"[But] I need to say something to effect change, because this can't go on any longer."

Maria Meyers, Becca's mother, shared with Washington Post:

"She's given her entire life for this. It's unacceptable. It's heartbreaking."
"She is terrified to go [alone]. And I mean terrified — like, rolled up in a ball, shaking."

Meyers said her training suffered because of how distraught this made her because she knows if accommodations were made she would be able to perform her best.

According to an email sent by Rick Adams, chief of sport performance and national governing body services for the USOPC:

"There remain no exceptions to late additions to our delegation list other than the athletes and essential operational personnel per the organizing committee and the government of Japan."
"As I said to you both on the phone and over email, I fully empathize with your concerns and wish we could fine [sic] a way as we have in the past."

Meyers tweet ended saying:

"So, in 2021, why as a disabled person am I still fighting for my rights?"
"I'm speaking up for future generations of Paralympic athletes in hope that they never have to experience the pain I've been through. Enough is enough."

And so many who shared and commented on her tweet felt the same.

Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire advocated for full accommodations for Meyers and other athletes with disabilities during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing Tuesday.

Hassan condemned the USOPC for their failures:

"Individuals who experience disabilities should not be forced to navigate the Tokyo Olympics without the support that they need."
"This is an outrage and a preventable situation that should never have gotten to this point."
"So I want the U.S. Olympic and 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 the basic supports that they need just to navigate the world."

The USOPC gave a statement to The Washington Post about the issue of restrictions due to COVID:

"This position has resulted in some athletes advising us that they will not accept a nomination to Team USA for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games."
"We are heartbroken for athletes needing to make agonizing decisions about whether to compete if they are unable to have their typical support resources at a major international competition, but our top priority is ensuring the safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and the citizens of the host country."

So far, there have been no other statements of amending the accommodations policy from the USOPC.