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Usher Syndrome Coalition Open Letter to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee

July 27, 2021

Sarah Hirshland, Chief Executive Officer
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909

Dear Mrs. Hirshland:

My name is Krista Vasi and I am contacting you in my capacity as the Executive Director of the Usher Syndrome Coalition. Usher syndrome is the most common genetic cause of deafblindness. The Coalition is a 501(c)(3) organization that represents up to 25,000 Americans and over 400,000 people worldwide living with this rare disease. The Coalition adamantly believes that all people living with a disability have an undeniable right to accommodations necessary for their inclusion in every aspect of society.

The Usher Syndrome Coalition is deeply disappointed that Becca Meyers, a deafblind Paralympic swimmer and six-time Paralympic medalist, had to make the heart-wrenching decision to withdraw from the Tokyo Paralympic Games. As reported on July 19, 2021 by the Washington Post, Ms. Meyers withdrew because the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) denied her request to bring her mother to serve as her Personal Care Assistant (PCA), better known in the deafblind community as a Support Service Provider (SSP). Individuals like Becca who have Usher syndrome, are born deaf and experience tunnel vision and night blindness, making it difficult, if not impossible, to navigate new territory without a human guide. A PCA is a justifiable and modest accommodation to ensure Becca’s safety and wellbeing while navigating the Games in an unfamiliar area. 

The USOPC states its global purpose is to build a better, more inclusive world through sport. The decision to deny Becca’s reasonable and essential accommodation to bring her PCA runs counter to its goal of inclusivity. The USOPC’s response on July 21 that one PCA will be provided for 34 athletes, 9 of whom are visually impaired, is irresponsible and dangerous. To further justify that the PCA will be joined by a staff of 10 swim professionals “who have experience with blind swimmers” diminishes the importance of this role and denies the huge impact of deafness on a person who is also blind.

Ms. Meyers said it best: “This is the Paralympics. We should be celebrating everyone’s disabilities. So, in 2021, why as a disabled person am I still fighting for my rights?"

The Usher Syndrome Coalition believes the decision to deny Becca her essential needs, from an entity meant to represent people with disabilities, is negligent and unacceptable. It also sends the wrong message to a community fueled by self-determination.

The Usher Syndrome Coalition stands by Ms. Meyers and commends her for speaking out. Becca will be a catalyst for change, for all who are deafblind or living with any disability. We understand Becca Meyers is the only Paralympic swimmer on Team USA who is both deaf and blind. This dual sensory loss has far-reaching effects on an individual’s quality of life and engagement in society. We invite the USOPC to join together with the Usher Syndrome Coalition and other organizations supporting the deafblind community to address and resolve the underlying issues resulting in the denial of Ms. Meyers’s request for essential accommodation.

Sincerely,

Krista Vasi
Executive Director

CC: Christopher McCleary, 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

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