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World Briefs

At the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China, 278 athletes from around the world competed in bowling.

U.S. President Obama’s Remark Offers “Teachable Moment” for All

U.S. President Barack Obama’s remark on the “Tonight Show” that his bowling skills were "like the Special Olympics or something" has provoked a powerful reaction across the country.

President Obama telephoned Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver to apologize for the remark he made during an appearance on 19 March. Shriver characterized the event as a “teachable moment” for the entire country, an opportunity to remind ourselves of the powerful, damaging impact of stereotypes, no matter how innocent the intent. (Read Shriver's official statement.)

“I think its important to see that words hurt and words do matter, and these words that in some respect can be seen as humiliating or a put-down to people with special needs do cause pain and they do result in stereotypes and result in behavior that is neglectful and almost oppressive of people with special needs,” said Shriver on the ABC-TV “Good Morning America” program on 20 March. “This kind of language needs to be a teachable moment I think for our country. That would help every parent who is at home this morning watching this show turn to their children and say that this is a chance for us to recognize that when we talk about Special Olympics, when we talk about people with special needs, lets make sure we talk about it in an affirming way.”

Bowling is one of the five most popular sports in the Special Olympics movement, with almost 240,000 athletes engaged in rigorous year-round training and competition around the world. Special Olympics athletes have a wide range of abilities, and focus on doing their best and improving their skills. Many Special Olympics athletes are excellent bowlers. In fact, in December 2008, Special Olympics Michigan athlete Kolan McConiughey bowled a perfect 300 game, the third time he has done so in competition. Special Olympics San Marino athlete Gianvito Campo averaged 165 for his three-game series in winning a gold medal at the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China.

Shriver noted that President Obama and his administration have shown their commitment to be strong advocates of people with disabilities by designing programs to improve the lives of Americans with disabilities and special needs. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, during a visit to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, on 12 February, characterized advocacy for people with disabilities as “a civil rights movement” and added that there is a need for policy changes to address the challenges. During his visit, Vice President Biden announced that Kareem Dale, a former member of Obama's campaign in charge of coordinating the vote of disabled Americans, had been named special assistant to the President for disabilities policy. The appointment marks the first time a U.S. President has had a special assistant focused exclusively on disability policy.

Special Olympics urges people from all walks of life to talk with one another and help dispel negative stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities. Only through open dialogue about how these characterizations can cause pain and damage can we begin to work together to create communities of acceptance and inclusion for all.

Part of that effort involves the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, a youth-led national awareness effort that launches on 31 March. Through events held across the United States, young people are asking everyone demonstrate their respect for people with special needs by taking the “R-word” pledge at www.r-word.org, joining Special Olympics Unified Sports programs, volunteering and being fans of Special Olympics athletes and the movement.