Special Olympics United Sports: Are They Inclusive Enough?

Wherever Rosemary Paris goes in the Olive Mountains, she meets people who know her daughter Gabriela.

GiGi, who has Down Syndrome, was a year-round athlete with a general education at Mount Olive High School and the Queen of Homecoming. She even appeared on a billboard in Times Square sponsored by the National Society for Down Syndrome.

Sport is key to GiGi’s popularity, surprising even Rosemary, a special education teacher at MacKinnon High School in Wharton.

GiGi was part of Mount Olive’s field hockey, basketball and softball teams along with her neurotypical peers. She also participates in the Mount Olive Unified Athletics Program, which brings together students with intellectual disabilities and neurotypical partners.

Combined clubs, teams and events often require less time commitment than their general education equivalents. But there are some limitations to what can be called Unified, or how inclusive these programs should be.

Gabriela from Mount Olive

David May of Morristown believes Unified is more restrictive than promised by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the grounds of disability. The related Law on the Education of Persons with Disabilities provides free appropriate public education to more than 7.5 million eligible children with disabilities – in at least restrictive environments – and guarantees special education and related services.

May would prefer students with special needs to compete with athletes of one generation on a team. But Unified does not allow university athletes to be team partners during the season, so their experience and experience with activities vary.

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