Press Releases

Panama Makes Strong Commitment to Support Rights of People with Disabilities

As part of the III Latin American Games with the funding of the Inter-American Development Bank and the support of the Government of the Republic of Panama, Special Olympics Latin America held the International Sport for Development Forum on “Inclusive Strategies for Equity.”

Social organizations, leaders of the public and private sectors, sporting federations committed to equal rights for people with disabilities, social entities and other leaders came together in the City of Panama with the sole purpose to assure and strengthen the commitment in Latin America and the Caribbean for the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities, promoted under the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention of the Rights for People with Disabilities.

The Forum had presentations of renowned speakers such as Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, former president of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, who spoke about advances in the rights of the people with disabilities and the challenges they still face in society. Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, spoke on how sports is a catalyst for equity, inclusion and social justice; he also made a heartfelt appeal for action on creating a truly inclusive society.

Creating Inclusive Communities Throughout the World

“There are an estimated 1 billion people on earth with disabilities and over 1/5 of them have intellectual disabilities. Many nations, including Panama, have passed legislation to protect their rights too. Enforcement mechanisms and implementation frameworks are emerging and need more thought and attention if these policy ideals are to be realized. But the good news is clear: the rights and gifts of people with intellectual and other disabilities are increasingly on the agenda,” said Shriver.

The Forum also included a debate panel formed by renowned leaders such as Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organization; Luis Gallegos, Member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors; Maria Cristina Perceval, Regional Director of UNICEF LACRO; Silvia Oteyza, Director of Social Sustainability of CAF (Development Bank of Latin America); and Diane Richler, former chair of the International Disability Alliance. The moderator was Glenda Umaña, news anchor for CNN Español.

“The desire to do more is what unites us in this Forum today, to take this inspiration and turn it into an action. To contribute to find solutions that in turn result in the inclusion of people with disabilities. Our success in this important duty will depend on the active involvement of the governments, organizations, communities and individuals – with or without disability – working together on participation and inclusion of people with disabilities in society,” said Claudia Echeverry, Regional President and Managing Director, Special Olympics Latin America.

Another presentation was given by Ferdinando Regalia, Chief of the Division of Social Protection and Health of the Inter-American Development Bank, for the social inclusion and the improvement of the lives of people with disabilities.

During the event, Special Olympics Latin America announced the beginning of a project in conjunction with Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) for the purpose of helping the countries of the region and the Caribbean to show and strengthen its commitment with the objectives of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that promote the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. The project “Unified Schools: Inclusive Sport and Education as Tools of Development in Panama” has a pilot phase of 3 years that will be implemented in Panama and later developed in other countries of the region. With the support of an investment by IDB that will help along with the Ministries of Sports, Education and Health and the National Disability Secretary (SENADIS), the project will reach 18,000 youth with and without disabilities in 60 public schools in Panama.

To conclude the International Sport for Development Forum and with the presence of the President of the Republic of Panama, his Excellency Juan Carlos Varela, and First Lady of the Dominican Republic Candida Montilla de Medina, the participants of the Forum made a public declaration in which they committed to SUPPORT the inclusion of people with disabilities; to CHALLENGE societies to expose inequity and exclusion involving people with intellectual disabilities; to UTILIZE sports to develop and emphasize the abilities of people with disabilities; and to promote the participation of people with intellectual disabilities in mainstream sporting activities. Additionally, they committed to cooperate and collaborate to facilitate and support the exchange of information, experiences, training programs and best practices.

To achieve the global vision of creating inclusive communities throughout the world, society must we should guarantee that people with intellectual disabilities be completely included not only in the game field, but also at home, in the collection of statistical data, in advancement and technological innovations, in the schools, in the health centers, at the workplace and in society in general. We have a great opportunity of achieving this vision by contributing to the global efforts of creating inclusive societies.

“The Declaration of Panama consolidates the state's commitment to continue promoting public policies aimed at improving the quality of life of the hundreds of people with disabulities living in the entire country," said President Varela. "With this I confirm the commitment of the Panamanian State to devote all resources to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

Special Olympics is favorably positioned to take a role in leadership in bringing attention to the community on the needs of people with intellectual disabilities, and the actions that can be taken to face it. As indicated in the Special Olympics 2016-2020 Global Strategic Plan, there is an important space for the expansion of Special Olympics programming. This is a strategic opportunity to ensure the maximum impact toward increasing inclusion of people with ID worldwide and to form strategic interdisciplinary alliances to promote the practice of the human rights of people with intellectual disabilities and to encourage its participation as sustainable development agents.

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global inclusion movement using sport, health, education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities. Founded in 1968, and celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5 million athletes and Unified partners in more than 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners, including the Christmas Records Trust, the Law Enforcement Torch Run® for Special Olympics, The Coca-Cola Company, United Airlines, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN, Microsoft, Lions Clubs International, Bank of America, Essilor Vision Foundation, the Golisano Foundation, Safilo Group, and TOYOTA. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog on Medium.


Iael Bielorai
Communications Coordinator, Special Olympics Latin America