SOI urges Caribbean to chart course for people with intellectual disabilities

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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As Special Olympics International (SOI) moves to fuel the unified sports initiative, the gauntlet has been thrown down to Caribbean countries to play their part in charting a course for people with intellectual disabilities.

During the World Summer Games in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month, top executives from SOI and Special Olympics North America (SONA) met with leaders of the Caribbean programmes, challenging them to commit to inclusive sport and health.

“The meeting was meant to get us to pledge our commitment to inclusive sports, inclusive health, unified schools and for unified leadership. They encouraged the Caribbean programmes to get more people involved by engaging more people, increasing understanding, and spreading the message of inclusion to achieve that goal,” said Special Olympics Jamaica Executive Director Lorna Bell, also the head of delegation for the Jamaican team at the World Games.

“Our Chairman Timothy Shriver believes we are not made to divide, but instead we are made to unite, and Special Olympics provides a platform for the world to be unified,” Bell continued.

Throughout the Games, Shriver had called on stakeholders to do what they can to foster equality, tolerance and inclusion.

He identified integrating people with intellectual disabilities into mainstream society through unified sports, which allows people with intellectual disabilities to compete alongside those without disabilities, as a key component.

Mary Davis, global chief executive officer of Special Olympics, told the Jamaica Observer last month that Jamaica is a Caribbean country heading in the right direction.

“I'm really impressed with the programme in Jamaica. I visited there last year in April where I visited some schools that were being opened particularly for people with intellectual disabilities. I saw developments that are happening all around Jamaica,” she said, noting that the size of Jamaica's contingent — numbering over 70 athletes — to the 2019 World Games was an indicator of programme development.

“Whether it's development of unified sports so people with and without intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to play together to show young people and to teach young people that they can be leaders of inclusion. Together we can build a more inclusive society [and] these are some of the things I saw when I visited Jamaica.

“I also saw the effort that Jamaica has put into the whole health programme and offering screenings to so many athletes who otherwise would be totally deprived of the opportunity to have… like audiology and podiatry,” Davis continued.

The Special Olympics movement, founded by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, aims to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for people with intellectual disabilities.

The movement empowers people with intellectual disabilities by promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect around the world.

Jamaica won a record 33 medals at the Summer Games in UAE, beating their previous best of 29 achieved four years ago.

— Sanjay Myers

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