Three-time Paralympic gold medalist Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind swimmer, shared this Instagram post with her "gut-wrenching decision to withdraw from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics." The reason? The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has denied her a reasonable and essential accommodation - a "trusted personal care assistant" (PCA).
Since 2017, Meyers said, the USOPC has approved the use of a trusted PCA (her mother) at all international swim meets because of her disabilities. But not this year because of COVID restrictions, which she understands. With new safety precautions and limits to "non-essential staff," Meyers said, the USOPC told her repeatedly that she didn't need a PCA "who I trust," because there would be "a single PCA on staff that is available to assist me and 33 other Paralympic swimmers, nine of whom are also visually impaired." She said in a USA Today interview, "not one person on the swim staff is specifically certified to work with blind or visually impaired athletes."
"I strongly believe the reduction in staff was not intended to reduce the number of essential support staff for Paralympians, like PCAs, but to reduce the number of nonessential staff," Meyers said in the interview. She added that PCAs make it possible for athletes with disabilities to complete in a setting like the Paralympics. They are essential, because they're needed to help Paralympians navigate the venue and give them the ability to trust their surroundings. Meyers said, "How could I possibly set foot in a foreign city, with the numerous restrictions and barriers that COVID-19 has put up, and expect to feel safe for two weeks?" How can any of the disabled athletes feel safe?
In her Instagram post, Meyers said, "In 2021, why as a disabled person am I still fighting for my rights?" She didn't make this decision on a whim and said it was agonizing. In the interview, she said she's trained for five years to get back to this point, "But enough is enough. I need to speak up for the next athlete who is deaf-blind or disabled in another way. As Paralympians, we train as hard as our counterparts, the Olympians. We deserve the same quality and safety nets that our able-bodied teammates will receive in just a few days' time."