Inclusion takes many forms and looks different for different people. Ultimately, inclusion means all people have equal access to services, supports, and opportunities.
In June 2022, the Special Olympics hosted its fifth quadrennial USA Games in Orlando, Florida. The Special Olympics is the largest, most inclusive organization for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities. I had the opportunity to attend and cheer on all the athletes.
Dubbed the #2022USAGames, thousands of athletes from all 50 states and 12 Caribbean countries come together to compete in sports like basketball, swimming, golf, triathlons, and over a dozen others. More than 5,500 athletes of differing abilities and capabilities, along with their coaches, experienced what, for many of them, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Special Olympics ensures that all athletes can compete regardless of financial status. All travel, lodging, meals, uniforms, and activities are included, ensuring everyone has the same opportunity. Athletes also received health screenings and, as appropriate, were provided with medical equipment such as hearing aids. They were also given a swag bag of clothing and other mementos.
Athletes competed and achieved results many people can only dream of, from weightlifting over 600 pounds, bowling well over 200, or getting in the 70s on a par 72 golf course. For many, it’s not about winning but simply access—competing and being given a chance. Cheering them on with over 20,000 volunteers, 125,000 spectators, and countless others watching on ABC and ESPN3 from around the world was incredible.
The opening games was an electrifying experience, with a parade of athletes by state, a military flyover, a performance by Sara Bareilles, and even an appearance by Micky and Minnie Mouse (it was in Orlando). In addition, there were countless sponsors from all over the United States, donating resources, supplies, services, funding, time, and even 100+ corporate jets in what was dubbed the world’s largest peacetime airlift to bring thousands of athletes to Orlando.
The Special Olympics strived to make this the most inclusive games yet. Being able to cheer on all the athletes and share the joy in their success really makes #ChoosetoInclude worthwhile.