This week, 24 Special Olympic athletes from across Florida took votes and debated on a wide range of issues.
"I don't think it was until they got until they got in the seats of the senators and realized they were here. Just as the lawmakers make policy, they were going to shape policy for Special Olympics Florida," says Nancy Sawyer, senior vice president of Special Olympics Florida.
"There are ongoing issues that are always there, and everyone expresses strong feelings on these issues. We now have an opportunity to show what our feelings are," says Mary Ann Gonzales, president elect of Florida's Special Olympics Congress.
This week members of the Congress voted yes to healthier lunches, to increasing the number of athletes attending state competitions to having better trained volunteers and more accurate scoring during games.
"It gives them an opportunity not only to learn about the legislative process, but also to make important decisions on behalf of other athletes and persons with disabilities," says Shelly Brantley with Florida's Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
Providing year-round competition for thousands of children and adults with intellectual disabilities, the Special Olympics have helped bring together families and communities.
The athletes themselves have become role models and say they want to continue playing an active role in shaping policy.
Special Olympics Florida was founded in 1972 and has now grown to 16,000 athletes and more than 26,000 volunteers.
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