Special Olympics Mission

The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

230 x 300 Snowshoeing in Korea

Snowshoeing gold medalist Carmen Rosa Garcia of Bolivia at the 2013 World Winter Games. Photo: Diego Azubel

45 Years of Empowerment

The Special Olympics mission remains as vital today as it did when the movement was founded in 1968. Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people. 

Through the power of sports, people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and success. Our athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment -- on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential.

There are about 200 million people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Our goal is to reach out to every one of them – and their families as well. Special Olympics does this through a wide range of trainings, competitions, health screenings and fund-raising events. We also create opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.


About Intellectual Disability

Special Olympics is a global movement of people who want to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But what are intellectual disabilities? Learn More

The Power to Transform Lives

The transformative power of sports to instill confidence, improve health and inspire a sense of competition is at the core of what Special Olympics does. From the detailed coaching guides we provide in many languages to the sharp-eyed officials at our international games, the focus is on real sports, real competition, real achievements.

In Special Olympics, the power and joy of sport, shifts focus to what our athletes CAN do, not what they can't. Attention to disabilities fades away. Instead, we see our athletes' talents and abilities -- and applaud them for all that they can do. And they are doing a lot -- from gymnastics to soccer to open-water swimming. With more than 32 Olympic-style sports, we offer adults and children with intellectual disabilities many ways to be involved in their communities, many ways to show who they really are.  


Stories about the Power of Special Olympics


July 02, 2014 | North America: Michigan

An Unspoken Bond

By Aaron Mills

A year ago, Tate Levendoski and Leoudy Sosa didn't know each other or have a way to communicate with each other. That didn't last long!View Story A year ago, Tate Levendoski and Leoudy Sosa didn't know each other or have a way to communicate with each other. The two met through Project UNIFY. Tate was paired with Leoudy, who also happens to be deaf, for Unified bowling. The two formed an instant bond despite the fact that they had to overcome a major language barrier. "I didn't know sign language, but through the hallways we gave each other high fives," recalls Tate. The pair's inability to communicate didn't last long, though. "Leoudy showed me a sign language website," says Tate. "Every night before bed, before I go to school, whenever I have some time, I go through and learn new signs. And ever since then, I'm signing with him and...we've been talking back and forth." Tate and Leoudy represented Team Michigan in Unified bowling at the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey, winning the gold medal in their division! But the medals they brought home are nothing compared to the lifelong friendship they formed.

About Aaron Mills:Aaron Mills is the Public Relations and Social Media Manager at Special Olympics Michigan.
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July 01, 2014 | Africa: Kenya

Nandi county, Kenya, finds a heroine in Mrs. Kaittany

By Mr John Makathimo

Special Olympics Kenya was introduced to the Nandi County by a very courageous lady, Mrs. Rhoda Kaittany. Mrs. Kaittany was determined to seek help for her son, who has an intellectual disability, in a region that didn’t cater to children with special needs.View Story Special Olympics Kenya was introduced to the Nandi County by a very courageous lady, Mrs. Rhoda Kaittany. Mrs. Kaittany was determined to seek help for her son, who has an intellectual disability, in a region that didn’t cater to children with special needs. She took it upon herself to create the infrastructure needed to support a Special Olympics program in Nandi County, to find children with intellectual disabilities who were not in school, to find teachers and chiefs who were willing to be trained as coaches, to procure corporate sponsorship, and to identify facilities to host Special Olympics events. Her valiant efforts paid off and the Nandi program was launched with support from local government and a commitment to include the new sub-program in budget allocation for the 2014-2015 fiscal years. With this support the county was able to host its first county competitions in May at the Aldia Girls Secondary School. Approximately 45 athletes, 9 Unified partners and 45 family members attended the competitions. A remarkable highlight in Mrs. Kaittany's story is the discovery of three children with an intellectual disability who had grown up in virtual isolation due to the lack of facilities in the region, one was even tied with a rope and locked in a sheep’s pen to keep him out of harm's way. Happily these three youths are now involved with Special Olympics and were able to participate in the competitions. Mrs. Kiattanty remarked that one looked overjoyed about being outside, while another seemed shocked as if he was seeing the world for the very first time. The county put on a great competition for the athletes and provided them with entertainment in song, dance and poems that was thoroughly enjoyed by the family members and community who came out in full support to witness their children reveal their true potential.

About Mr John Makathimo:Special Olympics Kenya National Director
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June 26, 2014 | Africa: Malawi

Malawi addresses clean drinking water

By Mr Felix Chisowa

Contaminated water poses a serious health risk to families and causes gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses. Special Olympics Malawi tackled the water sanitisation issue head on during a Family Health Forum.View Story Contaminated water poses a serious health risk to families and causes gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses like nausea, vomiting, cramps and diarrhoea. In contrast, drinking clean water protects the body from disease, improves overall health and aids children in developing a healthy immune system. Special Olympics Malawi tackled the water sanitisation issue head on during a Family Health Forum held in Salima and Nkhata Bay in the month of April. Family members that attended received water packs which serve as a more hygenic option for carrying water and are also more practical and comfortable than the less sanitary bucket system. The benefits of the water packs are numerous in that it helps women and children avoid the chronic pain and spinal injury caused by carrying heavy water jugs stop thier heads in the traditional fashion; the pack is 7 times lighter and 7 times smaller to store than a 20L capacity jerry cans and finally it is a much safer alternative to buckets and jerry cans. A Family member and district coordinator, Mr. Bernard Flezer, commended Special Olympics for the great contribution they have made to the community and expressed his gratitude on behalf of the community members and himself. This initiative is part of the programs Healthy Communities Project aimed at reducing health risks for the community and Special Olympics Malawi athletes in particular.

About Mr Felix Chisowa :Special Olympics Malawi National Director
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June 26, 2014 | Africa: Botswana

35 Botswana athlete leaders receive HIV/AIDS education

By Mr Ross Tebele

Special Olympics Botswana partnered with the Ministry of Health to host an Athlete Leadership Programs training to educate Special Olympics athlete leaders about HIV/AIDS.View Story Special Olympics Botswana, with the assistance of Sports Director Mr. Tebogo Ditlhokwa, partnered with the Ministry of Health to host an Athlete Leadership Programs (ALPs) training to educate Special Olympics athlete leaders about HIV/AIDS. Ms. Kabo Ngombe, a health officer with the Ministry of Health, conducted the training. She was amazed by how knowledgeable the athletes were regarding HIV/AIDS. The leaders who were trained will join Ms. Ngombe to help educate more athletes as part of a drive to create awareness on the HIV/AIDS health pandemic. This initiative was taken by the program in an effort to educate athletes about HIV/AIDS and also to educate them on their rights and sexual abuse. HIV/AIDS was placed firmly on the agenda during the recent Special Olympics African Leaders Forum on Disability hosted by the Malawi Government.

About Mr Ross Tebele :Special Olympics Botswana National Directors
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June 26, 2014 | Africa: Ghana

Ghana trains health professionals to provide better care for athletes

By Mr Seth Asamaoh

During April approximately 50 health care professionals attended a training aimed at equipping them to address specific health issues experienced by people with an intellectual disability.View Story During April approximately 50 health care professionals attended a training aimed at equipping them to address specific health issues experienced by people with an intellectual disability (ID). The participants, who trained at the Holy Spirit Cathedral in Adabraka-Accra in Ghana, left with basic skills and the ability to assess the health needs of people with ID. Research studies conducted by Special Olympics found that individuals with ID face widespread health problems, but physicians, dentist and other health care professionals are not receiving adequate training to treat individuals with ID. For more than 15 years, Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® volunteer healthcare professionals have provided health screenings, health education,services and referrals for follow-up care in 122 countries. Special Olympics is the world’s largest public health organization for people with intellectual disabilities – a population that faces severe health issues and inadequate or non-existent care. The training was facilitated in an effort to break down preconceived notions around ID and to reduce the challenge people with ID experience in receiving health care. The training was supported by the Special Olympics Ghana Board Chair, Mr. Augustine Kokukokor, Special Olympics Ghana National Director, Mr. Seth Asamoah, Special Olympics Clinical Director, Dr. Paul Kyponyoh and, guest of honour, the Honourable Member of Parliament, Mr. John Majisi. The family members and athletes present at the training were very excited about the opportunities being created for them in Ghana.

About Mr Seth Asamaoh:Special Olympics Ghana National Director
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June 20, 2014 | SOI General: Headquarters

New Jersey Embraces Unified Sports

By Christy White

Members of the unified soccer team for Special Olympics New Jersey saw the new legislation signed into law.

Young people with disabilities don't often get a chance to play on their school sports teams, but New Jersey has a new law encouraging the unified sports approach that Special Olympics pioneered.View Story Young people with disabilities don't often get a chance to play on their school sports teams, but more and more U.S. states are adopting the unified sports approach that Special Olympics pioneered. The governor of New Jersey just signed a bill into law that encourages schools to make opportunities for sports participation available to all students. Special Olympics New Jersey, which championed the new law, is cited in the new law as a consulting organization. For almost 20 years, Special Olympics has offered sport teams that blend people with and without intellectual disabilities. It's a model that encourages sports and fun, and which also gets people together to learn more about each other. Read more about the new law in the press release below.

About Christy White:I am Director of Global Media and Public Relations for Special Olympics.
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June 12, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Great Britain

World Cup Rivalry on Hold for Special Olympics

By Chris Hull

England National Football Team Manager Roy Hodgson meets with footballers from Special Olympics Brazil.

They are World Cup rivals on the pitch but friendship proves a stronger bond at Special Olympics, so 10 Brazilian footballers with learning disabilities got the chance to watch the England team training.View Story They may be World Cup rivals on the pitch but friendship proves a stronger bond at Special Olympics. The team at Special Olympics Great Britain facilitated with The England Football Association the chance for 10 Brazilian footballers with learning disabilities the chance to watch the England team in training prior to the World Cup. The event was supported and activated on the ground by Special Olympics GB thanks to the support of the Premier League. It took place at England training base in Rio de Janeiro on Monday (9 June 2014) just days before England’s opening game against Italy. Ana Paula Soares, National Director for Special Olympics Brasil, commented: “When I told our ten players they would be watching and meeting the England World Cup squad in Rio they quite literally couldn’t sleep. “This amazing experience was all thanks to our friends at Special Olympics GB who were supported by the Premier League to facilitate and activate this opportunity.”

About Chris Hull:I am a Communications Consultant for Special Olympics Great Britain.
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June 12, 2014 | North America: Michigan

Awareness at the College Level

By Adam Cable

Myself and "Fast Eddie" at the 2014 Special Olympics Michigan Summer Games

As a student at Central Michigan University, I have been blessed with a plethora of experiences both on and off campus. Nothing will trump my experience with Special Olympics.View Story As a student at Central Michigan University, I have been blessed with a plethora of experiences both on and off campus. Nothing will trump my experience with Special Olympics Michigan. As a brother of Beta Theta Pi, I have watched our greek life take passion in volunteering with the Olympics and with Project Unify. Project Unify at CMU is a pretty big deal to us since we are one of the first universities to have this program. As a future band teacher I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to create a unified band when I have my own classroom, and to be able to teach students to understand each other's differences and to seek interest in common goals while having fun. I leave CMU with a passion to spread awareness to end the R word, to include everyone regardless of their different ability, and to have fun in all walks of life. Without volunteering through Special Olympics Michigan I would not be the man I am today, and I would not be the teacher I hope to become.

About Adam Cable:Adam Cable is a 22 year old student at Central Michigan University finishing up his degree in K-12 Music Education. Watching the Detroit Tigers, listening to music, and skiing are some of his hobbies while he is not inside the classroom.
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June 10, 2014 | Europe Eurasia: Romania

Special Olympics is our life

By Kristin Hughes

Alexandru and Laurentin Zelko at Healthy Athletes during Special Olympics Romania Summer Games 2014

When Laurentin was born, the doctors told his parents they should leave him because he was not worth anything. But Laurentin’s parents loved their child. Eventually they found Special Olympics.View Story When Laurentin was born, the doctors told his parents they should leave him because he was not worth anything. But Laurentin’s parents loved their child. Laurentin did not learn to walk until he was four and at age five he spoke his first word, “mama”. Eventually they found Special Olympics. “Special Olympics is our life. It has given me strength and confidence and made us so proud.” Not only has Special Olympics sport provided many opportunities for Laurentin, but through Healthy Athletes, it was discovered that Laurentin had a severe hearing problem. The doctor who saw Laurentin at Healthy Athletes Healthy Hearing told him to come see her at the hospital in Bucharest for treatment, and now Laurentin is able to hear and is not longer in pain. Prescription glasses were also given to Laurentin at Opening Eyes.“We are so grateful for Special Olympics,” says Alexandru “it has been a challenging journey, and Special Olympics has greatly improved the health and well-being of our son."

About Kristin Hughes:Senior Manager of Global Community Health Programs at Special Olympics, believer in inclusion for all and striving to to ensure people with intellectual disabilities have equal access to health resources, opportunities, education and care.
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June 06, 2014 | North America: New York

A Day for Special Smiles an Eye Opener for Dentists

By Onolee Stephan

Dentists at A Day for Special Smiles in Rochester, NY. Drs. Alexis Ghanem, Bhumija Gupta, and Vineela Redla.

The impact of A Day for Special Smiles was visible through the smiles of the Special Olympics New York athletes who got free dental care. Not as visible, but was equally as profound was the impact the event had on the volunteer dental professionals.View Story The impact of A Day for Special Smiles was visible through the smiles of the Special Olympics New York athletes who got free dental care. Not as visible, but was equally as profound was the impact the event had on the volunteer dental professionals. “This event was an eye opener for me. It has inspired me to get more involved and to create more ways to provide care to patients with intellectual disabilities (ID)” says Dr. Bhumija Gupta, Faculty at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health. Studies have shown that dental professionals have little or no exposure to treating people with ID and that one of the biggest challenges people with ID face in accessing dental care is finding a dentist who will care for them. A Day for Special Smiles is a part of the Golisano Foundation funded Healthy Communities initiative that Special Olympics New York is implementing to help overcome these challenges and to open the doors to dental care to all people with ID.

About Onolee Stephan:Onolee Stephan, MPH; Director, Community Health Programs
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Our History

Decades of sports for people with intellectual disabilities.
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The Christmas Records TrustFunding Special Olympics work worldwide.Learn More »


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Annenberg FoundationSupports our goals for coaches’ excellence.Learn More »


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Bank of AmericaSupports Special Olympics Team USA.Learn More »


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Coca-ColaOfficial global partner of Special Olympics.
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ESPNWorldwide support for Unified Sports.Learn More »


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EssilorOfficial global supplier of ophthalmic lenses.Learn More »


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Health One GlobalGlobal health data technology partner.Learn More »


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Hear the WorldSupplies hearing aids to our athletes.Learn More »


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AIPSGlobal Impact Partner for Special Olympics.Learn More »


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Lions ClubSupports access to quality eye care.Learn More »


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MattelSupports various youth programs.Learn More »


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MTM RecognitionSupplier of awards and medals for our athletes.Learn More »


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Perfect Sense DigitalSpecial Olympics' leading digital partner.Learn More »


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Procter & GambleProvides marketing campaigns that support our athletes.Learn More »


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SafewayRaises funds and awareness for people with disabilities.Learn More »


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SàfiloSupplies optical frames and sunglasses.Learn More »


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UNICEFProvides greater inclusion of children with disabilities.Learn More »


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Y&RPowering our global youth marketing campaign.Learn more »


Special Olympics Blog

A Powerful Prescription

"Physical activity is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug."read more »

Posted on 2014-05-06 by Healthy Athletes

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