WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., said it was an “outrage” that a six-time American Paralympic medalist said she had to withdraw from competition because Olympic officials denied her access to a personal care assistant due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Becca Meyers, a deaf and blind swimmer, announced on social media Tuesday that she won’t compete for Team USA in the Paralympic Games because she was told she can’t bring her mother and personal care assistant to Tokyo.
Hassan raised the matter during a COVID-19 update hearing Tuesday morning before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
“This is an outrage and a preventable situation that should have never have gotten to this point,” Hassan said in her remarks.
Meyers said she was heartbroken at having to pull out.
“I’ve had to make the gut-wrenching decision to withdraw from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics,” Meyers wrote on Twitter and Instagram.
“I’m angry, I’m disappointed, but most of all, I’m sad to not be representing my country.”
Meyers, 26, was born with Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that left her deaf at birth and later led to her lost vision.
Hassan urged federal health officials to make the case with the International Olympic Committee that those with disabilities must have the same access to competition as athletes without ailments, especially during a pandemic.
“I want them to ensure that all of our athletes are able to compete safely at this summer’s games — including by providing them the basic supports that they need just to navigate the world,” Hassan said.
The state’s junior senator and former governor got involved in politics and ran for a seat in the state Senate following her activism on behalf of families with disabilities.
Hassan’s son, Ben, 31, suffers from cerebral palsy and requires the use of a wheelchair.
“The accommodation they need is another human being and it needs to be seen as the same accommodation that could be made for other populations,” Hassan said.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she could empathize with Meyers’ plight.
“I share your concern — we have dedicated resources specifically to disabled communities,” Walensky said.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) in 2017 had given Meyers permission in 2019 to bring her mother and a personal care assistant with her to competitions.
During the 2016 Paralympic Games, Meyers said she had to stop eating because she couldn’t find the athletes’ dining room at the Olympic village in Rio de Janeiro.
The USOPC, in a statement to The Washington Post, said that several athletes have echoed Meyers’ criticism and could also pull out of the competition.
“We are heartbroken for athletes needing to make agonizing decisions about whether to compete if they are unable to have their typical support resources at a major international competition, but our top priority is ensuring the safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and the citizens of the host country,” the USOPC said.
Meyers won three gold medals and a silver medal at the 2016 Paralympics Games. She won a silver and bronze medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.