Special Olympics: Equality Through Sports


Tech. Sgt. De-Juan Haley

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Channing Jones of the 130th Civil Engineering Squadron, cheers on Cheyenne Filler of Fairmont, W.Va. as she competes in Cornhole during the 2016 Summer Special Olympics (Courtesy of Tech. Sgt. De-Juan Haley).

Gabriella Stevens

Maybe you have heard of Best Buddies, or even participated in “The Little Feet Meet,” but Special Olympics, a much larger organization, is fighting for the same goals of equality for people with disabilities through sports.

Special Olympics was developed to try to tackle the stigma, isolation, inactivity, and injustice faced by people with intellectual disabilities (ID). To achieve these goals, they focus on programming in sports, health, education and community building.

“Our core values are respect, inclusion, and unity,” said Val Reinford, the Vice President of Local Special Olympics Program Services. “So, we are trying to bring people with and without intellectual disabilities together so that they can learn from each other.”

These core values provide the basis for the Special Olympics’ actions. The organization tries to increase its reach to people with intellectual disabilities by producing programs for people both in and out of school.

At the community level, they have unified sports teams where people with and without intellectual disabilities play together. At the school level, much of the work is centered around school-wide engagement or educational activities.

According to Reinford, one of the reasons there is an injustice for people with disabilities is the lack of knowledge and experience with people with disabilities.

“I think it’s basically because of ignorance. If you’ve not been exposed to people with intellectual disabilities, people who are different than you, it can sometimes be scary or you really don’t know their capabilities,” said Reinford.

two people speed walking on a track
John Toche, Special Olympics athlete, participates in the 100-meter walk with the assistance of Airman 1st Class Joshua Hinson, 335th Training Squadron student, during the Special Olympics Mississippi Summer Games (Photo courtesy of Kemberly Groue).

This issue is being overcome through attempted cohesion of people with and without intellectual disabilities. Once you get to know someone that has an intellectual disability, you realize they really are capable of doing things, can hold jobs, and live independently. Special Olympics wants to expose volunteers to the value and the gifts of people with intellectual disabilities.

“It is just a great organization. It impacts so many people and the volunteers just give so much of their time and energy and they really make a difference. The athletes just teach us all to be better people”

To help combat the inequality intellectually disabled people face, try to get involved in your local community. You can apply to become a volunteer for the Special Olympics Virginia branch. You can also make a donation to the organization so that they can continue to achieve their goals with the right funding. However, most of all, you can just be inclusive and understanding of those with intellectual disabilities. A lot of kindness goes a long way.

Visit the Special Olympics website at https://www.specialolympics.org/ for more information.