Friday, April 11, 2014
Inclusion means everyone-or when special isn't special..an open letter to Special Olympics Maine..
To whom it may concern-or Hey Person who picked the venue for today's state swim meet!
But it wasn't wonderful. I sat there and quietly seethed because I knew of at least one individual who worked equally as hard-but was unable to participate. This was not through any fault of their own-it was simply because the chosen venue had no hoist to help them into the pool. Imagine that-a "Special" Olympian excluded because of the very thing that made them "Special". Equally as unthinkable-a Special Olympics venue that was not fully handicap accessible! It boggles the mind.
Yes, there were people who were eager to help-"We'll hoist them in and out of the the pool ourselves-whatever it takes!" To add fuel to the fire-there were no accessible changing rooms for this person."Oh we'll let you use an open area and stand around them holding up towels." While I am sure that these were well intended suggestions, that there was no malice-I am equally sure there wasn't any real thought behind them either..This is a human being. Someone with thoughts, feelings, a personality. A person deserving of dignity and respect. Someone who wanted their moment to shine-not for the spectacle of being hauled into a pool by strangers-or made to change behind a shield of towels-but because they were an athlete-a participant. Accepted and Included.
Oh sure, I heard the excuses-when someone complained about this athlete being excluded, they were told- "You find a venue big enough to hold everybody!" That doesn't make sense. Really- what is more important? A venue big enough to hold all the athletes or a venue that accommodates all the athletes? Had people known there was an accommodation issue(meaning more than two days before the event) maybe they could have found a way to rent a hoist-or fund raised to buy one. Maybe a smaller more accessible venue (spread the event over two days) could have been used. Who knows what could have been done. I do know however, what should have.
I thought about this as I sat there today-watching all of the happy faces-seeing the pride in accomplishment, the joy in success. I sat and thought about the person who wasn't there-who didn't get their moment and wondered how left out they were feeling. I looked around and saw all of the bright yellow Special Olympic tee-shirts - emblazoned with "Inclusion" "Friendship" "Unity" "Respect" -all such lovely sentiments. I tried to measure those sentiments against the person who wasn't included...and sadly realized that today- they were just words. .
That athlete (and any others that may have missed out today) is owed a big apology. Accessibility, accommodation and inclusion-especially in the Special Olympics, should NEVER be an issue.Nor should they only be words on a tee shirt. This was unacceptable.
As the mother of a "Special Olympian" and of other children with disabilities, I have heard far to many times about why my kids can not be included in some things. I can't tell you how much I loathe the sentiment "The needs of the many outweigh those of the few" I did not however expect that attitude to bleed in to the Special Olympics. I am appalled.