Area Businesses Pledge to be More Inclusive Ahead of Special Olympic Games

Beginning July 1, the Greater Seattle area will host more than 3,500 Special Olympics athletes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to the athletes themselves, more than 1,000 coaches, 10,000 family members, and an estimated 50,000 spectators also will stream into the local area for the week-long event.

Erin Brewer

Photos by Erin Brewer

The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games is among some of the most significant sporting events to come to the area, including the 1990 Goodwill Games and the 2015 U.S. Open held in south Puget Sound. The substantial influx of visitors — both with special needs and without— will mean a boost for businesses in the hospitality, retail, and restaurant sectors.

This is not lost on the folks at The Arc of King County, a nonprofit which advocates to “further the civil rights movement for all persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities to thrive as equal, valued, and active members of the community.”

The group has teamed up with Microsoft, the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Uber, and other area businesses and organizations to form Welcome Inclusion, or WIN.

Special Olympics - Welcome Inclusion

Courtest Welcome Inclusion

The intent of the movement is to engage with area businesses to raise awareness about creating healthy relationships with people with disabilities, while providing businesses the opportunity to take a pledge and receive training to effectively serve, work with, and hire those individuals. In so doing, these individuals could more easily locate WIN establishments where they will feel supported and understood.

“WIN was born because people (with disabilities) have had positive experiences and negatives ones (while dining in a restaurant),” said Erin Brewer, director of outreach and communications for WIN. “So we thought, let’s start with the positive and then go from there.”

As the movement gained traction, more and more business owners took the pledge and underwent training to earn the blue WIN window sticker to adorn the doors of their establishments. Some have pledged to be inclusive because they feel it will bolster their business, while others are motivated by thoughts of a loved one with a disability. For some, it’s both.

James Schmidt is one of those business owners. The owner of four Pecado Bueno restaurants, including one in Redmond, Schmidt has donated more than $600,000 of fundraising proceeds to educational and children’s health organizations, and has volunteered to help individuals with autism in the local community. Schmidt is also the father of a child with special needs.

Special Olympics - Pecado Bueno

“When we put the WIN sticker up a couple of weeks ago, it is just one more opportunity for me to talk to my staff and let them know that this is what we care about,” Schmidt said. “They need to understand that when someone is having a meltdown in the corner and the parents are wrapping their arms around this person that is screaming, then you need to be there to help them and not be looking at the family like, ‘Geez, get out of here.’”

Though the initiative launched due to the Special Olympics, Brewer said she and WIN have no intention of stopping when the games leave town in July.

“(The athletes) come in, and they leave, it’s a moment in time. Politicians, the press, and everyone else are going to be paying attention to this group of people with intellectual or behavioral disabilities, so let’s use that as a catalyst,” Brewer said. “When the games pull out and leave town there is going to be a nice legacy that is left behind.”

Schmidt said he hopes more business owners will take notice of the initiative ahead of the games, not just to boost revenue, but because he believes it’s the right thing to do. “We have a responsibility as business owners to serve the community, the whole community, and to train our staff appropriately to do that,” Schmidt said.