Inclusion has been a popular topic of conversation lately, due to the national dialogue on racial injustice. While the consensus is that inclusion is essential to advancing social justice, there have been fewer discussions around why. So we wanted to take the opportunity to focus on the benefits of inclusion.
Special Olympics stands for inclusion. We were founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver because people with intellectual disabilities had been sidelined, marginalized, and isolated for too long. Since then, we’ve been promoting inclusion by using sports as a catalyst for systemic change. Today, we work to advance the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in all areas of life, from healthcare and education to leadership and career opportunities.
It’s going to take all of us coming together to build a truly inclusive world where no one is left behind because of their disability, ethnicity, age, religion, or gender identity. We hope you will join us in this Inclusion Revolution, which celebrates what makes us all different and unique—while recognizing our shared humanity.
“We are the inclusion revolution. We will not rest until everyone with an intellectual challenge is treated with the dignity they deserve. Everyone. No exceptions.”
Here are just a few reasons why inclusion should be prioritized at all levels of society.
Reason 1: Inclusion Promotes Tolerance and Reduces Bullying
Exclusion fuels the fear of difference. Inclusion, on the other hand, fuels acceptance. At Special Olympics Unified Schools, students with and without intellectual disabilities learn and play side-by-side. As a result, communities with Unified Schools have seen less bullying, teasing, and other acts of intolerance.
Reason 2: Inclusion Cultivates Empathy
Unified Sports brings players both with and without intellectual disabilities together on a team, giving them the opportunity to spend time with one another, and share a common interest. This interaction supports the development of friendships, as well as social inclusion. Our research has shown that most teammates said that they had developed a greater understanding of people with intellectual disabilities through the program.
Reason 3: Inclusion Helps People Develop a Positive Self-Image
Eunice Kennedy Shriver noted that for people with intellectual disabilities, sports can help them “realize their potential for growth.” According to a study from Research in Developmental Disabilities, our athletes show increased self-esteem and self-worth, compared to people with disabilities who don’t participate in Special Olympics. Through the uniting power of sports, our athletes build confidence in what they can accomplish.
“I was a boy who always lacked confidence and the ability to speak and express my views. Learning sports—especially cricket—helped me a lot,” says Rithik, a young man with intellectual disabilities in India. “My best days began in 2011 when we met my Special Olympics coach and my real and meaningful journey began … and changed me completely. I became more responsible, independent, fearless and confident."
For Aakriti, a young woman without intellectual disabilities, inclusive sports introduced her to new role models: Special Olympics athletes! Their example made a deep impression on her. She says, “Because of Special Olympics, I came in contact with so many inspiring athletes—and learned determination, confidence, and perseverance.”
Reason 4: Inclusion Drives Meaningful Change
The understanding that comes with an inclusive mindset can lead to new ideas and positive change. For example, people with intellectual disabilities have always had less access to healthcare. This situation is made worse because only 1 in 5 healthcare professionals is trained to treat them. As a result, people with intellectual disabilities die an average of 16 years earlier than the general population. Inclusive health—which leads to better health training—is one way to fundamentally change the policies, structures, and institutions that hold people back. When it comes to healthcare, it’s a matter of life and death.
Reason 5: Inclusion Helps Us See the Person First
When all people are included in all aspects of society, we’re more likely to see the person rather than focus on their disability. Take Steven, who stepped up during the pandemic by keeping to his schedule at the local grocery store and Target. Although he’s at high risk for COVID-19, he was determined to make sure his neighbors could get the supplies they needed. He’s a community hero who just happens to have intellectual disabilities—and a role model for us all.
Want to be a champion for inclusion? Start by taking the Inclusion Pledge today!