The Special Olympics brings the spectacle of sport and human achievement to the Middle East March 15-19. Though played out on the Arabian Gulf, the impact of the courage displayed on the fields, unified competition, and strides into promoting healthcare for the most underserved on the globe will send ripples across the seas. Here are 3 important ways Special Olympics Abu Dhabi will transform society.
Ways Special Olympics Abu Dhabi Will Transform Society
50 years and the Power of One
Special Olympics turned 50 this past year. It is hard to comprehend the impact of this one organization on our world, but simpler if we re-trace history. At a time those with intellectual disabilities (ID) were commonly institutionalized, one woman, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, saw a potential that few others did. Perhaps because of her personal experience with sister Rosemary Kennedy’s mental challenges, she had a vision to bring those like her sibling out of the shadows.
That “power of one” led her to found Camp Shriver in 1962. Today, Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event for adults and children with intellectual disabilities, which makes it totally distinct from the Paralympics and Olympic Games. To date, more than 4.5 million athletes with ID have participated in the Games. How many other “ones” are in our world? You?
According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, an intellectual disability is a condition characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills. This disability originates before the age of 18.
After 50 years of changing the game, Special Olympics has more than 170 different athlete programs. Its inclusionary athletic competitions, or “Unified Sports,” have grown dramatically worldwide. Since 1997, another cornerstone element has taken root; the Healthy Athlete initiative.
As per the Special Olympics site, “despite severe need and higher health risks, people with intellectual disabilities are often denied health services and die on average 16 years sooner than the general population.” Since the inception of the Healthy Athletes program in 1997, athlete screenings have identified significant rates of obesity, untreated tooth decay, incorrect lens prescriptions, hearing loss, balance deficits, and ill-fitting shoe wear in that population. Clearly, this effort is changing the game in healthcare for those most underserved, those with ID.
Special Olympics Abu Dhabi will highlight seven disciplines of medicine:
- Special Smiles (dentists provide oral healthcare)
- Fit Feet (podiatric screenings)
- FUNfitness (physical therapists assess balance, strength, flexibility, and endurance of each athlete)
- Opening Eyes (vision care professionals partner with Lions Club International to assess and provide athletes with new prescription eyewear, sunglasses, and sports goggles)
- Healthy Hearing (audiologist care)
- Strong Minds (teaches the importance of emotional well-being)
- Health Promotion (wellness and self-care skills).
The 5 Key Objectives of the Healthy Athletes Program
- Improve access and health care for Special Olympics athletes at event-based and other health screening clinics
- Make referrals or recommendations for follow-up to community health professionals, as appropriate
- Train health care professionals, students and others about the needs and care of people with intellectual disabilities
- Collect, analyze and disseminate data on the health status and needs of people with intellectual disabilities
- To advocate for improved health policies and programs for people with intellectual disabilities
Special Olympics Healthy Athletes is designed to help Special Olympics athletes improve their health and fitness. The ultimate goal of Healthy Athletes is to improve each athlete’s ability to train and compete in Special Olympics as well as in life.
- Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Programs directly support inclusion
- Millions of people have benefitted as a result of the work done through the Healthy Athletes Program
FACT: Since it started in 1997, Special Olympics has trained more than 240,000 healthcare professionals and students to treat people with intellectual disabilities.
*** Due to the Healthy Athletes data collected over the past two decades, persons with ID have been officially designated as a “medically underserved population” by the American Medical Association. Stay tuned to the U.S. Congress and the efforts they will make to do the same in the near future.
The Middle East “Meets the Determined”
At the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, over 7,000 athletes competed in 24 sporting events. Stories of courage, determination, growth, and sportsmanship were spotlighted on television, on billboards, even on the vehicles in the streets! In a part of the world that those with ID would typically be kept in the shadows, this is particularly relevant.
In 2017, Special Olympics World Games Chairman and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces announced Abu Dhabi would host the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world – the Special Olympics World Games. Even more profound was his announcement that athletes would ID would now be deemed “People of Determination.” What wisdom!
#SpecialOlympics Chairman Tim Shriver talks about the UAE’s commitment to people of determination https://t.co/7BOlHWHRLB #MeetTheDetermined @WorldGamesAD pic.twitter.com/PYLqLaBe7s
— The National (@TheNationalUAE) March 14, 2019
Moreover, this change of heart and transformation of culture is groundbreaking in the Middle East. (Another bonus is the first-ever addition of 14 Saudi Arabia women athletes!) To paraphrase Tim Shriver concerning ‘Meet the Determined’:
If you are a mother living in the United Arab Emirates, and you just had a child born with Down Syndrome, you might have thought your life was hopeless. And this week you are seeing your future play out on the fields; in the athletes winning medals, speaking publicly on TV, and leading the Opening Ceremony in front of tens of thousands. Now, just a few days later, there is true hope.
This cultural revolution that began in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will hopefully spread across the Middle East and the globe. Where our common humanity ensures that all sports are unified. All schools are integrated. And all healthcare is inclusive. Going forward, who we work with, play with, and commune alongside will now include the People of Determination. Special Olympics Abu Dhabi will transform society!
The special olympics is such a wonderful organization! My mom has been teaching special needs students for over 10 years, and they hold a county-wide special olympics every year for the students. I didn’t realize the official organization was so big!
Nicole Gilbert says
I’ve volunteered at a special olympics events in the past. it was by far the most fulfilling volunteer commitment I’ve ever completed and I encourage everyone to do it at least once.
Natural Beauty And Makeup says
Wow, these special athletes will be deemed People of Determination, great thought! One of my colleague is associated with an organization to teach the special kids. I have seen them organizing several events for those kids. Kudos to such people and these noble initiatives!
Wow so amazing event special athletes they give a chance to show their determination and encouragement kudos to the organizers..
what an amazing initiative. Congrats to the brave fighters across the world, being determined to change the world and make it a better place!
Flossie McCowald says
The Healthy Athletes program sounds amazing! And I’m so glad that this year’s Special Olympics is in a place where it can truly help to make a difference in the society at large!
I think we surely need this and more such an organization to help save the world. It will make life for everyone easy.
Liza Perry says
That program sounds amazing! Special athletes are warriors and true inspiration for everyone around them!
This is such an amazing initiative! I am so happy to see this coming together its fantastic!!
Andrea Larson says
Awesome event and great initiative. The fact that it takes place internationally probably makes it even more important for everyone.
I knew very little about Special Olympics and how it was created, and all it has achieved! Thank you so much for this informative article!
Riana Shahid says
We need more venues to make sure people are always included. 🙂