Special Olympics sports are transformative experiences that bring out pride, courage and joy in athletes – while inviting families and entire communities to join in the celebration. The Special Olympics sports experience has always been rooted in a radical notion: That every person has the capacity to be an Olympian, and that human greatness is defined more by the spirit than the body.
Sports are at the heart of Special Olympics because they are universal. Sports are understood and celebrated by all people, regardless of race, nationality, gender, economic level, religion and— thanks in large part to Special Olympics—intellectual ability. Athletes with and without intellectual disabilities compete according to the same rules and have the same motivations, the same goals, and reap the same benefits.[i]
Special Olympics is the world’s leading voice in elevating awareness of the needs and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. Sports are at the heart, but our ultimate goal is to use stories of athletes’ achievements, skills and challenges to educate, engage and ultimately change attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities.
The Special Olympics experience fills a critical need in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for physical activity, social interaction, and the demonstration of competence to themselves, their families and the community. The improvements athletes make in social skills and friendships are often dramatic. Special Olympics athletes learn developmental and life skills as the benefits of participation translate beyond sports, helping them to live more independent and rewarding lives. [ii]
By providing a platform for achievement and a large social network of teammates, coaches, family members and community groups, Special Olympics makes a measurable difference in the lives of athletes. In fact, at least 80% of families in the United States say they have seen improvements in their athletes’ self esteem, self confidence, social skills, friendships and health thanks to their participation in Special Olympics.[iii]
Special Olympics involvement also has positive effects on how family members relate to one another and to their athlete. A majority of parents in the U.S. (70%) report that Special Olympics has a positive effect on time spent as a family, either increasing the amount of time spent together or increasing the types of shared activities. This outlook is shared by siblings as well – 82% of who feel that Special Olympics has a positive impact on their family.[iv]
Anecdotal evidence suggests that volunteering with Special Olympics has a positive effect on all groups that work with the organization. Volunteers report a wide variety of benefits including personal satisfaction, increased tolerance, and re-examination of personal values.
Research indicates that Special Olympics can have a positive effect on members of the general public who have no relationship with the organization other than knowing about it, hearing others talk about it, and seeing its events on television or reading about them in the news. While it is harder to measure its effect on the general public, it is clear that the public in many places around the world is influenced by Special Olympics.Nonetheless, much progress still needs to be made for people with intellectual disabilities to be treated as equals in communities around the world. [v]
There are 381,071[vi] individuals with intellectual disabilities living in the State of Pennsylvania; 5.2% are enrolled in the Special Olympics Pennsylvania program. It is very important for us to continue our mission and to provide opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities whereby they are accepted, respected, and given the chance to become useful and productive citizens.[vii]
[i]Norins Bardon, J., Harada, C. M., Parker, R.C., and Brecklinghaus, S. (2008). Evaluation of the Special OlympicsEurope/Eurasia Unified Football Pilot-Project:Findings from Austria, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. Special Report for Special Olympics International. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston/Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center
[ii] Impact of Special Olympics Families, Special Olympics Toolkit
[iii]Siperstein, G.N., Harada, C.M., Parker, R.C., Hardman, M. L., McGuire, J. (2005) A Comprehensive Study of Special Olympics Programs in the United States. A Special Report for Special Olympics International. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston/Special Olympics Global Collaborating Center
[v] Special Olympics, Inc. (2009) Serving Athletes, Families, and the Community, the Universal Impact of Special Olympics: Challenging the Barriers for People with Intellectual Disability.
[vi] World Health Organization
[vii] Special Olympics North America