By Ken Reed

The recent Special Olympics event held in California was a great success, from many perspectives.

But in my mind, the most exciting development is the growth of Unified Sports, teams made up of athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. Unified Sports is a great tool for mainstreaming athletes with intellectual disabilities.

“The real sort of long-term vision (for Special Olympics) is total inclusion,” says Bart Connor, a former USA gymnast and now a Special Olympics board member.

“What we are really promoting now is this division of Special Olympics called Unified Sports made up of a team of individuals with and without intellectual disabilities playing together. And if we get that right, that could be mainstream in public schools. This is about inclusiveness. This not only raises the play and the experience for the athletes; it also is a catalyst for a connection. So, you might likely become friends with an athlete that you might have never had the opportunity to meet. And that means you will invite them to your house or to a movie. That is what we are talking about. It’s social acceptance, and sport is the vehicle to help make that happen.”

Scott Gleeson wrote a terrific piece on the Unified Sports movement within Special Olympics in the “For the Win” section of USA Today. He points out the importance of inclusion, not just for Special Olympics athletes but society as a whole.

“[Unified Sports} is a movement, and one that needs as much fuel as possible,” wrote Gleeson. “Whether it’s in school or in the workforce, people with intellectual disabilities are undoubtedly stigmatized. Weird. Stupid. Different. The list goes on.”

Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver also stresses the importance of inclusion, which was highlighted in this year’s Games.

“We know without a doubt people with intellectual disabilities are isolated and excluded,” said Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver.

“Our mission is not to run big events. Our goal is to create an opportunity for connection. Sooner rather than later, we need to have an inclusive sports program in every school in the nation. We should have a Title IX for every school for those with intellectual disabilities and call it Title Unified.”

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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