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Community Impact

5 Benefits of Inclusive Education

How Students With and Without Intellectual Disabilities Can Thrive in a Socially Inclusive Learning Environment
Students carry the Unified Champion School Banner at Papillion A Vista South High School

Special Olympics Unified Champion SchoolsⓇ (UCS) create communities where students with intellectual disabilities—across ethnicities, religion, gender identity, and backgrounds—feel welcome and are routinely included in all school opportunities. At the core of the UCS program are Special Olympics Unified SportsⓇ (students of all abilities playing together), inclusive youth leadership, and whole school engagement. Inclusive education programs like Unified Champion Schools are helping to address many of the challenges that students with intellectual disabilities face, from social isolation and rejection to discrimination and bullying.

By bringing students of all abilities together, inclusive education programs are helping to create understanding, shape attitudes, and cultivate positive learning environments. Find out more about the Unified Champion Schools model which is generously supported by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

"People can feel inclusion, i have. You can see people who aren't like you and can accept them for who they are. Always remember that inclusion is key."
Tajha Ilerant, U.S. Youth Ambassador

Our research has shown that there are many benefits of Unified Champion Schools.

Benefit 1: Socially inclusive schools become more welcoming to people of all abilities, and there are higher levels of respect for diversity.

UCS staff felt that there is more mutual respect for individual differences (e.g., race, culture, etc.) at all levels of the school—student-student, adult-student, adult-adult—and overall norms for tolerance.

Benefit 2: Socially inclusive school climates reduce teasing, bullying, and the exclusion of any group of students.

58% of administrators said that being a Unified Champion School reduced bullying.

Benefit 3: Students with intellectual disabilities are routinely included in, and feel a part of, all social activities and opportunities.

“Unified means coming together as one, being friends with, and including people for who they really are,” says Mark Willson, a Special Olympics Unified partner at Orono High School.

Benefit 4: Students who “play unified” gain patience and the ability to compromise.

Both young people with and without intellectual disabilities who play sports together and socially interact develop life skills that benefit them long into the future.

Benefit 5: Students without disabilities hold more positive attitudes toward their peers with disabilities.

Participants in the UCS program are more empathetic and compassionate.

The Reach of Unified Champion Schools

  • Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools is in over 7,600 schools across 49 U.S. states and the District of Columbia and the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
  • As many as 3.6 million young people are taking part in inclusive experiences through Special Olympics.
  • In 2019, about 286,000 school-age youth with and without disabilities participated in Unified Sports.

Download the Unified Champion Schools guidelines for promoting social inclusion.

Download the Unified Champion Schools Research Overview statistics.


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