Paralympic swimmer Becca Meyers’ achievements were recognized by Gov. Larry Hogan at a news conference covering the state’s progress and setbacks in empowering Marylanders with disabilities.
The Monday morning event commemorated the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Meyers, a three-time gold medalist, announced July 20 that the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee had denied her request to bring her mother as an aide to the Tokyo Paralympic Games. The committee said no due to COVID-19 restrictions, citing policies from the Japanese government and Tokyo Olympic organizers. Meyers’ parents said they were told the decision rested with the U.S. committee, however.
The Timonium resident was born with Usher’s syndrome, a genetic disorder that left her deaf at birth and worsened her vision over time. Meyers, 26, relies on her mother as a personal care assistant to guide her at meets, an especially important task during the pandemic when lips are covered by protective masks.
“When they said no, I can’t have my [protective care assistant] of choice, whom I trust, it kind of made me feel like a second-class citizen, like I’m not validated as a person,” Meyers said in a previous interview.
Hogan criticized the committee’s decision on Twitter and at Monday’s event. He commended Meyer’s bravery in sharing her experience with the public.
“Becca deserved to be able to compete, and while we’re all so disappointed for her, I’m unbelievably proud of her for having the courage to speak up and to speak out about this injustice,” Hogan said.
Hogan also signed an executive order designating the month of July as Maryland’s Disability Culture and Achievements Month. Going forward, the state will promote events surrounding disability pride and achievements each July.
The governor noted the release of the State Disabilities Plan earlier this month, aiming to coordinate state and local efforts to improve the quality of life of Marylanders with disabilities.
Localities throughout Maryland have struggled to meet the needs of residents with disabilities. In March, The Arc Maryland filed a lawsuit against several counties alleging they did not provide equal COVID-19 vaccine access to those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Wheelchair users in Baltimore sued the city in June over inaccessible sidewalks. And caregivers for those with disabilities are worried the Maryland Department of Health may end Appendix K — a temporary program that allows more flexibility in billing for and providing care.
Katherine Breen, policy manager the Governor’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, said the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing issues in the disability community, affecting everything from employment to health care.
“We’ve seen dire situations in health care where deaf and hard of hearing people have had very limited access, the inability to read people’s lips with the requirement of masking and so on,” Breen signed at the event as an interpreter spoke aloud.
Mark Riccobono, the president of the National Federation of the Blind, said it’s imperative to let people with disabilities lead the state’s efforts. Riccobono, who was diagnosed as legally blind at age 5, said his organization hopes to launch the first civil rights museum on blindness in the country in Baltimore.
“Accommodation used to be the standard, but because of strong leaders and because of the voice of people with disabilities, that is shifting to making sure that we are planning and building our society to include people with disabilities from the beginning,” Riccobono said.