By Terrence Nowlin
When David Egan steps up to the podium, he shines. A lifelong advocate for people with disabilities and a Special Olympics athlete, Egan lights up as he talks about the power and potential of his fellow athletes.
In Seattle and Chicago, Egan represented both SourceAmerica and Special Olympics. As a community relations specialist at SourceAmerica, Egan called for greater inclusion and opportunity for people with disabilities beyond the playing fields of Special Olympics. He serves as a link between the two organizations, working to develop a partnership at the Special Olympics 2018 USA Games in Seattle and the Special Olympics 50th anniversary celebration in Chicago to offer athletes professional support and a connection to potential work opportunities through the Journey of Employment job fairs.
"This is just the beginning of where we want to go with this," Egan said on NBC affiliate KING-TV, about the Seattle event. "People with disabilities do matter. This is our community as much as it is your community. We belong, we matter and we contribute in our community and in the workplace."
Egan has a powerful platform for his message of inclusion. He was chosen to be a Special Olympics Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger in 2014, part of a select group of athlete leaders who serve as Special Olympics spokespeople. As a Global Messenger, Egan has delivered his message around the world.
"Global Messenger means that I give speeches and travel … to get people more involved, make them aware of the opportunities out there in Special Olympics," he said. "It’s me telling people why Special Olympics is important to our communities and why we need Special Olympics programs to strengthen our voice and give people a sense of independence, skill, (and) ability to rise to the occasion," he said.
Egan’s role with the organization evolved from athlete to advocate when he volunteered at the 1999 World Games in Raleigh, North Carolina. Since then, his influence has grown. He discovered that Special Olympics is more than just competitions and medals.
"It is a movement that cares about our humanity and breaking down barriers," he said. "It is a playing field where sports bring people together and makes us more alike than different."
Egan carries the theme of breaking down barriers to his day job in Government Affairs at SourceAmerica, where his advocacy focuses on the employment of people with disabilities. Government Affairs Director of Special Projects Shane Kanady is Egan’s supervisor at SourceAmerica. He said Egan’s work is critical to the missions of both SourceAmerica and Special Olympics.
"He’s someone who is in a position to pursue a career based on a passion for social change," Kanady said. "He has gained valuable experience through Special Olympics, developing important skills through sports and advocacy training. Having him as a spokesperson for both sides of the partnership is exciting and important, as it helps to advance our shared goals. David is a tremendous advocate for the missions of both organizations."
An advocate to his core, Egan said he enjoys educating his coworkers.
"I think my favorite part about working here is (showing others) how to work with someone like me," he said. "Once you get to work with someone like me, you get to see this (beneficial) trend and I hope it will continue to grow. My disability did not prevent me from having a competitive job for the past 20 years. Having Down syndrome does not define me as a person."
Outside of work, his advocacy extends from local nonprofit organizations to national and international audiences.
In March, he addressed attendees of the United Nations World Down Syndrome Day conference as the keynote speaker in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He was the first person with an intellectual disability awarded a Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Public Policy Fellowship and has worked on Capitol Hill with the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee. He served on several nonprofit organizations boards and is currently on the boards of the Arc of Northern Virginia and the Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia.
"Firestarters," a book published recently about innovation, labeled Egan an "instigator." In the book, he said he hopes to follow the vision of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver in his work.
"My hope is that my efforts will extend her vision for human rights and her bipartisan call for compassion and dignity for all," he was quoted as saying.
Egan regularly speaks on behalf of various Down syndrome organizations, including Down Syndrome Family Network, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, National Down Syndrome Congress and National Down Syndrome Society. His list of speaking engagements is nearly as extensive as that of his affiliations. But his longest relationship has been with Special Olympics, a constant in his life since his first competition at age 10.
"I have the opportunities just like any athlete in Special Olympics to go through these programs," he said. "It was really great for me to be exposed to different things. I started in track and field, and I moved into swimming and speed skating. I also play basketball, soccer bocce, and unified softball. I see myself as a leader in the movement."