This week, my Twitter feed was loaded with photos and comments on the 2014 USA Special Olympics games.
It got me thinking about how there are two completely separate schools of thought about the Special Olympics (SO) sports programs. On one hand, there are the disability theorists who condemn SO for being “self-imposed segregation,” “misappropriating limited resources,” and “perpetuating harmful stereotypes.” *I learned about these kinds of reactions in graduate school along with the reasons why people didn’t like Jerry Lewis or Christopher Reeve. It was all news to me. Until then I just saw the good these programs did and didn’t question the bigger impact.
The other camp is parked squarely in the positive side of SO.
For my two cents, I’d like to focus on how Special Olympics has grown and changed with the times and needs of the community. For example, last year I wrote about two programs that focus on the integration and health of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Unified Sports program is a step in the right direction – in my humble opinion. Of course, there will always be mis-steps along the way as witnessed by the reaction to a photo that went viral on social media last month.
The reaction was justified: from the photo it looked like two “able-bodied” college girls competed against a 14-year-old girl who has Down syndrome. It was obviously not the object of “Unified Sports” and Special Olympics Indiana admitted their mistake. The Special Olympian’s mother commented on the initial shock and the fact that it didn’t spoil her daughter’s day.
“Megan likes to get the ‘necklaces,’ as she calls them, and she’s less concerned about whether they are gold, silver or bronze,” Chriss Miller said.
“But we’re sitting there expecting Megan to be first and when the announcer called her name for bronze and then the other girls’ names for silver and gold … my mouth at that point was just hanging open,” Miller added.
“Wonderful things did go on that day and it doesn’t put a damper on those things, but Special Olympics is for special students … and there shouldn’t be anybody taking that away from them,” Miller said.
In my view, these organizations are bridges across a gigantic chasm.
I would love for both of my kids to be included 100% in all activities with typical kids, but that’s not the world we currently live in.
So my 2 Cents on this topic is, as usual, that there is a point where theory meets reality. Yes, we would love to have a perfect world where our children were included, where people didn’t use them to feel better about themselves, where insults weren’t based on language used to describe our world. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Do we as parents have the responsibility to denounce everything that helps our children have experiences that they would otherwise miss out on? Should we be expected deny our children the friendships and special moments that come with true inclusion in a group of peers? It may not be a Utopian experience, but it’s what we’ve got. We all deserve MORE CHOICES and Special Olympics is one in the spectrum of decisions that is and should be an individual choice!
If you have an opinion please feel free to share it- even if it’s different than mine. I’d love to hear your 2 cents too!