This week, I have the honor to lead the U.S. Presidential Delegation to the Special Olympics World Winter Games. Also joining me on the Presidential Delegation are Sung Kim, the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea; Judith Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights; and Julie Petty, a member of the President's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.
The 2013 Winter Games are hosted in PyeongChang, South Korea, and I'm here during the week to cheer on more than 2,300 athletes who have come from around the world for this event, including more than 150 from the United States.
Special Olympics events provide a special opportunity for us all to reflect on the value of diversity. People with disabilities come from all walks of life, genders, every social class, and all religious traditions; it is not uncommon for people to have a family member, friend or acquaintance with a disability.
But people with disabilities are too often left out, or left behind -- in the classroom, in the workplace, or in the community. Discrimination around the world against those with disabilities leads to lack of access to public services, education and employment opportunities; political disenfranchisement; segregation and poverty. That's not right, and we all share a responsibility to increase understanding and awareness for the contributions of those with disabilities.
Disability-inclusive approaches to education, employment, and public services assure that people with disabilities are able to exercise their rights as full and equal participants in their societies.
President Obama made important progress in 2010 when he issued Executive Order 13548, to be sure those with disabilities are included in the workforce of the United States Government. And just last Friday, the President and Secretary Arne Duncan took a truly historic step to ensure that kids with disabilities aren't left out in activities and on sports teams in U.S. schools.
The Special Olympics is also helping to lead the way, promoting awareness of the contributions of people with intellectual disabilities and strengthening acts of inclusion around the world. The Special Olympics underscores the fact that all people, everywhere in the world, have great potential. Sometimes, we define success too narrowly, and the Special Olympics provide a wonderful reminder not to do so.
Special Olympics athletes face significant challenges every single day. I know how hard these athletes push to achieve great things, and I know how hard folks work to make the Special Olympics a wonderful event.
The commitment of the volunteers and staff of the Special Olympics certainly reflects the spirit that led Eunice Kennedy Shriver, more than 40 years ago, to organize the first International Special Olympics Games in Chicago. This week, thanks to the work of thousands of supporters of the Special Olympics from around the world, her legacy lives on in the stories and successes of the thousands of athletes who are taking the spotlight.
I hope that all Americans, and people around the world, will take some time over the course of these Games to reflect on the value and contributions of people with disabilities, and how we can all take part in promoting the full inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in our communities.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Special Olympics, in recognition of the Pyeongchang 2013 World Winter Games in South Korea this week. To see all the posts in the series, click here.
Follow Sec. Tom Vilsack on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@USDA