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A Career Built on Creating Inclusion

Special Olympics Chief of Organizational Excellence Denis Doolan shares his journey, and his steps, to diversifying leadership.
Denis Doolan stands in front of a projector screen as he makes a presentation.
Special Olympics Chief of Organizational Excellence Denis Doolan during a presentation at about Unified Leadership in Washington, DC.

The following excerpt is from the article titled Denis Doolan of Special Olympics International: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society published by Authority Magazine.

Early in my career, I was fortunate to work on the Paralympic Games in Sydney, which was a ground-breaking event in raising the profile of people with disabilities and attracting record crowds. That experience led to my first engagement with Special Olympics, as Director of Venues for the 2003 Special Olympics World Games. I worked on a variety of strategies and projects aimed at improving the inclusion of older people and individuals with disabilities before returning to Special Olympics about 10 years ago. Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of my current role—my team is responsible for training people with intellectual disabilities and ensuring they have opportunities to perform a variety of roles. I’ve seen time and again how powerful that can be.

One of my favorite memories is presenting at a major HR conference in the UK with Ian Harper, a Special Olympics ‘athlete leader,’ who spoke from the heart about the barriers he faced in his lifetime. You could see and feel perceptions change in the room as he spoke, as everyone realized their low expectations were the real issue, not Ian’s different abilities.

Based on many similar experiences, we have developed an inclusive leadership model—the Unified Leadership approach—designed to challenge mindsets and change behaviors towards all marginalized groups, not only people with intellectual disabilities.

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