All About The Special Olympics

People with Disabilities

The Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities with an opportunity to become physically fit while becoming productive and respected members of society through competition and sports training. The first Special Olympics Games were held on July 20, 1968 in Chicago, Illinois. The games evolved out of a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver at her home in 1962. Children and adults with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to receive year-round training and competition in 30 Olympic-style sports. More than 2.5 million people with disabilities participate in over 200 Special Olympics programs worldwide, including 550,000 in the U.S. The programs include alpine skiing, aquatics, basketball, cycling, golf, powerlifting, sailing and tennis.

The Special Olympics provide a much-needed outlet for people with intellectual disabilities, and go a long way towards building self esteem. But, we still have a long way to go to understanding the needs of people with disabilities, opportunities available to them and the many challenges that they are faced with daily. Doug Melvin of Boise, Idaho, the Commissioner of Public Safety for the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, walks us through some history of people with disabilities, Catherine Wood of Mobulls dog breeders in Missouri talks about the changing needs of people with physical and intellectual disabilities and Anne Kerr of Salem, Oregon discusses changes that still need to happen for people with disabilities.

Some Background Information on People with Disabilities by Doug Melvin of Boise Idaho

The U.S. Census Bureau defines disability as having a difficult time performing activities like bathing, hearing, seeing, doing light housework or a specific condition or disease that results in a physical or intellectual disability, like Alzheimer’s. The Census Bureau defines a person with a severe disability as someone who cannot perform these activities on their own, needs assistance or has a condition or disease. While the definitions of people with disabilities have changed, a lot still needs to be done to prevent discrimination of the disabled. The definitions are still evolving and improving, and will ultimately have a lot of influence on how people with intellectual disabilities are accepted and integrated into their communities.

The Changing Classification of People with Disabilities by Catherine Woods of Mobulls in West Plains, Missouri

Over the years, the definition of people with disabilities has changed. The general public used to look at people with intellectual disabilities as people in need of help and support. Government agencies and private organizations provided benefits to people with disabilities to help them get by. The same organizations have been revamped to better address the needs of the disabled today. Instead of “just” writing checks, the organizations work to help people with disabilities find independence and to be integrated into society. Programs like the Special Olympics help those with intellectual disabilities develop self-confidence, improve their physical fitness and improve their motor skills. The participants get to form new friendships, while experiencing mental, social and spiritual growth. Changing definitions and increased knowledge about disability etiquette affects interactions with people with disabilities in our communities and fosters better living and working relationships, too.

Changes Still Needed for People with Physical and Intellectual Disabilities by Anne Kerr of Salem, Oregon

There are still many changes that need to happen for people with disabilities. 54 million people are classified as having some type of disability in America. Of those 54 million, roughly 70% are unemployed. And according to the most recent Census Bureau data, people with a severe disability have an increased chance of living below the poverty level, receiving public assistance, having a household income of less than $20,000 and reporting their health status as “fair or poor.” Grants that help improve the living and working situations of people with disabilities are available, but it can take a long time to get funds appropriated. For now, we accept the changes at the local, state and national level as steps in the right direction, but realize, there’s still a long way to go.

We Thank Our Contributors:

  • Doug Melvin, Commissioner of Public Safety for the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games, of Boise, Idaho
  • Catherine Woods, Mobulls, breeders of French and English bulldogs, West Plains, MO
  • Anne Kerr of Salem, Oregon

Share This Post