Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Building An Inclusive Society: Goals For Final Year of My SSIGM Term

2023 marks the final stretch of my Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger (SSIGM) term. This is the time for me to reflect on the message that I hope to get across to you, our readers, and the Special Olympics community. I have four meaningful goals for this year that I hope to accomplish, with the love and support of my mentors and staff from Special Olympics and my family and friends.

Three Special Olympics athletes pose for a photo.
Working alongside my fellow Special Olympics North America SSIGMs Renee (left) and Hanna (front) has been so much fun!

My first goal of writing a book is actually one of my longtime dreams. My love of writing first began when I was in elementary school. During 5th grade, my teacher introduced our class to poetry and writing. Then during my junior high school years, I began authoring short stories. During my junior year of high school, our English class was introduced to the world of blogging. And a decade ago, when I began my university studies in journalism, my love for newspaper writing and nonfiction stories blossomed. Then, for several years post-college, I was a freelance award-winning columnist at a small newspaper. These past four years of writing this bi-monthly SSIGM blog, I’ve been motivated to make my dream of writing a book a reality. These two book ideas are in no particular order of importance in getting published.

The first book idea is to finish authoring a book about Special Chronicles, the groundbreaking, global podcast platform that I founded 15 years ago. This book will focus on the stories I’ve had the honor to share over a decade on my weekly podcast. This book will be both a collection and extension of my award-winning Special VoicesNewspaper Column, Special Chronicles Podcast, and this SSIGM Blog. It’ll give me an opportunity to chronicle the stories of those of us with intellectual disabilities on a whole new platform, potentially reaching new audiences.

The second book idea is to co-author a book, which came to me while walking to dinner in downtown Chicago. It was after I was at the United Airlines global headquarters attending a Business Resource Group (BRG) Summit. I was walking to dinner at the Italian Village restaurant with my team board members from our Bridge Disability BRG. I was talking with Captain Jill Mills, a 737 Captain, Check Airman, and Washington DC Chief Pilot with United Airlines. Jill is also the President of United’s Bridge BRG. During this October dinner, I mentioned to Jill my dream of writing a book. Jill then enthusiastically told me she wanted to co-author a book with me. About a month later, Jill sent me a text message with an outline of chapter ideas. This book will highlight the importance of how our society can take inclusion to new heights.

The second goal is actually a continuation of something I’ve been doing for the past year which is Unified Leadership. I was first introduced to this program in October 2019 during Special Olympics International’s global launch of Unified Leadership at the Athlete Leadership Workshop in Dublin, Ireland. In 2023, I want to continue to co-facilitate new Unified Leadership trainings, which are educational inclusion training sessions that Special Olympics presents to employees at a wide range of companies, many of which are corporate partners of Special Olympics. Listenhere to this podcast collection of Unified Leadership trainings.

During the final stretch of my SSIGM term, I hope to co-facilitate Unified Leadership training for new companies across the country and globally. My goal is to educate their employees not only about my story but also about the necessity to have fully inclusive employment for those of us with intellectual disabilities.

A group of United Airlines employees pose for a photo.
I am passionate about making workplaces more inclusive, thanks to my experience at United Airlines.

A priority I believe is taking full inclusion to new heights by creating fully inclusive employment opportunities. I know firsthand the importance of this. Three years ago, United Airlines, a Global Platinum Partner of Special Olympics, hired four Special Olympics Illinois athletes to be the original Service Ambassadors, based at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. United thereby took inclusion to new heights in October 2019 when it expanded its inclusive workforce.

One of the messages I hope to deliver to companies is to have them look at their teams, departments, and offices across their organization to see where they can use the talents, gifts, and skills of people with intellectual disabilities. I hope to educate their employees to look beyond simple jobs. We make great employees in other ways too, as web developers, storytellers, speakers, and podcasters. We just need training like anyone else. We need someone to see the potential in us.

The third goal during the final stretch of my SSIGM term is an ongoing opportunity that involves my role on the advisory team of the All You Hear Is Noise documentary. This film is expected to be released in early 2023. It follows the Special Olympics USA athletes who competed at the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi. The stories of the team members showcase the ability and confidence we athletes gain from our involvement in the movement.

The fourth and final goal during this final stretch of my SSIGM term is a few small goals I have for theBerlin World Games. Our upcoming Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 will be the second global event that our cohort of SSIGMs will attend.

One of the roles I hope to fill during my time in Berlin is to host a panel discussion around the All You Hear Is Noise documentary. During this panel, I would hope to host a conversation on stage with the filmmakers following a screening of their film. The Q&A conversation with the producers will focus on the themes and lessons that viewers can learn from the stories portrayed in their documentary.

A Special Olympics athlete interviews a fellow Special Olympics athlete after a competition.
I hope to provide daily updates and recaps from the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023.

Also during the World Games, one of my goals is similar to when I co-hosted the Abu Dhabi Daily Show, a video podcast series produced in collaboration with the Special Olympics USA’s communications plan. In Germany this time, in collaboration with Special Olympics' global communications plan, I hope to host the Berlin Together Daily Show (okay this name is TBD). This original audio and video podcast series will hopefully be featured on Special Olympics website and simulcasted on my Special Chronicles podcast platform.

Finally, during my two weeks at the Berlin World Games, I hope to emcee at events, to speak at a media reception and at other events. I hope to connect with our global celebrity ambassadors, meet my fellow Special Olympics athletes from across the globe, and meet others from our movement.

During the year 2023, this final stretch of my SSIGM term, I hope you consider inviting me to speak to your company, school, community, or to your Special Olympics Program.

Join us as we challenge expectations every day, create community, build confidence, and show society how we are athletes and so much more. Join me and take the Inclusion Revolution Pledge as we build an inclusive society for people with and without intellectual disabilities.

Recommended Content

Connect with an Inclusive Workforce

It all began with a phone call I received in September 2019. Karen Milligan, Director of Athlete Leadership at Special Olympics Illinois, had a big opportunity for me -- a groundbreaking job opportunity with United Airlines, Global Platinum Partner of Special Olympics. Three years ago, my employment journey took off to new heights. I have collaborated with many colleagues and been able to highlight my skills and abilities as a Service Ambassador at United Airlines in Chicago (ORD).
7 Min Read

Karen Milligan Inspires and Supports Me

I first met Karen Milligan about fifteen years ago at beginner Special Olympics Athlete Leadership training. Even though Karen is smaller in stature than a lot of us attending, I noticed right away that she had a big personality. She was warm and friendly. It was clear that she really loved Special Olympics. For years now, I’ve had many experiences alongside Karen. Her personality and her actions make me feel a part of a larger family, the Special Olympics family.
3 Min Read

Athlete Leadership Prepares for Unified Employment

In over a decade of participation in Special Olympics, I’ve learned many athlete leadership skills that have helped me, and any athlete, move into an inclusive workplace. In today’s blog piece I will share with you five Special Olympics Athlete Leadership skills that have prepared me for my current employment at United Airlines, which includes: public speaking and interviews, getting outside of myself, having a global perspective, taking initiative, and valuing all members of a team.
5 Min Read