Governor O'Malley Celebrates Passage of Fitness and Athletic Equity Act

Honors Paralympic Athlete Willie Stewart; Joins Students and Representatives to Promote Expanded Athletic Opportunities for People with Disabilities


Governor and athletesANNAPOLIS, MD (July 21, 2008) – Surrounded by Maryland athletes playing bocce, wheelchair basketball, adaptive tennis, goal ball and other sports activities, Governor Martin O’Malley today joined representatives from the Maryland Department of Disabilities, the Maryland State Department of Education, and members of the Maryland disabilities community to celebrate the passage of the 2008 Maryland Fitness and Athletic Equity Act for Students with Disabilities. 

“In Maryland, we are deeply committed to the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act and ensuring that each individual has the opportunity to make a positive difference in this world,” said Governor O’Malley.  “The Maryland Fitness and Athletic Equity Act will ensure that all students the have the same right to access athletic opportunities at our schools.  I am grateful to the Maryland students participating in today’s event and for giving all of us the courage to make our world a better place.”   

“We should never miss an opportunity to be inspired or leave anyone on the outside of our society, and this Act integrates all parts together so that everyone can make a difference,” said Willie Stewart, a paralympic athlete, and guest of honor at the event.  “I watch disabled athletes do amazing things and if they can’t get on the field, we all miss the chance to be inspired.  This bill makes us stronger as a community.”

Young person recreatesThe event kicked off a week of activities to promote and recognize the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a major milestone in ensuring that more than 54 million Americans receive the same basic freedoms – independence, equal access, freedom of choice and inclusion – afforded to every citizen in our country.  The event also included special displays, demonstrations and information for students with disabilities and their families.  Partners for the event included Special Olympics Maryland, Maryland Disability Law Center, Maryland Stadium Authority Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, Aramark Sports and Entertainment, McDonald’s, Presentation Media and Prince George’s Tennis and Education Foundation.

As part of the program, special guest and keynote speaker Willie Stewart, paralympic athlete, four world triathlon champion, and winner of the 2007 New York City Triathlon, shared his experiences as a challenged athlete. Mr. Stewart is also the world’s first disabled athlete to complete a four-day adventure race and just yesterday, participated in the 2008 New York Triathlon and came in second place.  Mr. Stewart is the director of the PossAbilities program at the Loma Linda University Medical Center. Its goal is to offer disabled individuals a sense of community and provide activities and practical help to integrate them back into life. 

“Today’s sports activities were a terrific opportunity to demonstrate that people with disabilities can and do lead active lives enjoying a wide range of sports activities,” Department of Disabilities Secretary and avid swimmer,  Cathy Raggio said.  “Our goal with this event was to promote the concept that fitness is important for everyone regardless of their age or abilities.”

The Maryland Fitness and Athletic Equity Act for Students with Disabilities, passed in the 2008 legislative session and signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley, ensures that students with disabilities are provided equal opportunities to participate in physical education programs, and athletic activities in Maryland schools.  With the passage of the legislation, the Maryland Department of Disabilities and the Maryland State Department of Education will work with local school jurisdictions to improve policies and implement the new statute and improvements to adaptive physical education and interscholastic athletic participation. 

Wheelchair athletes“The Fitness and Athletic Equity Act assures that students with disabilities will no longer be just spectators.  They will have every opportunity to benefit from adaptive physical education, unified sports and try out for competitive sports,” Raggio said.

Later this year, three Maryland paralympic athletes will travel to China as members of the U.S. Paralympic team to compete in the Paralympic games.  Tatyana McFadden, of Howard County, will compete in the track and field events, Jessica Long, of Middle River, is a swimmer, and Clark Rachfal, of Annapolis, will participate in the cycling competition. 

Later this week, Governor O’Malley will be the keynote speaker at the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.   This landmark legislation was signed into law in 1990 and protects the civil rights of those with disabilities.  In Maryland approximately 850,000 individuals or 18 percent of the total population are classified as disabled, according to the 2000 Census.

Knowing that every individual can make a difference and leading our State forward, Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Brown have helped to ensure that all Marylanders have the opportunity to make Maryland a better state, and together with the Maryland General Assembly, have:

  • Governor speakingRevised the Governor’s Interagency Transition Council to improve the post-secondary school outcomes for youth with disabilities, and bring together more agencies and programs that serve individuals with disabilities;
  • Increased funding by $12.3 million for the Transitioning Youth program, part of the Developmental Disabilities Administration;
  • Invested $2.3 million in funding for the Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) to reduce their waiting list for services and enable more people to obtain jobs;
  • Invested $4.6 million in additional funding for the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program to enhance the development of infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities and delays;
  • Increased $2.7 million for the Community Services Waiting List to support children and adults with disabilities in the community;
  • Provided a 1.5 percent cost of living increase for Developmental Disabilities service providers, an action necessary to ensure the sustainability of our community-based services and to provide high quality service; and
  • Provided employment opportunities and support to ensure people with disabilities can become successful, productive members of Maryland’s workforce to address the extraordinarily high rate of unemployment (54% in Maryland) in the disabled community. 



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