Brave in the Attempt: Special Olympics and Disabilities Awareness Month

March is National Disabilities Awareness Month

Teamwork, physical activity, positive reinforcement and community recognition and participation.

parade - the sun has burst through - photo

This year’s Lincoln County Special Olympics basketball teams will be hitting Turner, Oregon for state wide championship games.

Getting there has been a team effort: state level Special Olympics staff and administrators; our local Lincoln County directors, Donna and Eric Thorpe; family and friends; volunteers; and the players.

From 2020 up to part of 2022, the face-to-face S.O. games and practices were put on hold. This year, the basketball participants in Lincoln County number more than 20. Our Saturday practices have parents, grandparents and supporters watching these athletes hit the court and do their warm-ups, skills activities and scrimmages.

Did I mention FUN? As one of the coaches, I have seen these participants go from reluctance to beaming happiness to get energized by safe fair competition.

As part of Disabilities Awareness Month (March), all people celebrating the gains made with such legislation as the Americans with Disability Act understand how difficult it has been to get young and old living with developmental, physical, and intellectual disabilities into the hearts and minds of mainstream society.

My early work was with United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon and Southwest Washington. My clients were people with an array of disabilities, not just cerebral palsy. My training was centered around putting people first, working with clients on their dream jobs, and helping shift a prejudicial culture into a fair one. That is, I worked with Portland area employers and businesses to encourage hiring clients with dreams and aspirations of independence through a job.

My work was around “carving” jobs or “specialized” employment. There were really only two or three degrees of separation: many of the hiring managers, business owners and workers in these businesses have lived experiences with family and friends who have a disability.

People first language is about thinking of young and old as people “living” with a disability, which isn’t the only defining factor in their lives.

There are five important federal laws protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment and the job application process: Americans with Disabilities Act; Rehabilitation Act; Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act; Civil Service Reform Act.

This is just a short list of the protections this society has decided are important for our fellow citizens living with autism,  fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Fragile X and a number of other developmental/intellectual disabilities.

Shifting from housing, employment, and education rights for all citizens including those with developmental-intellectual-psychological disabilities, we grasp the importance of activities of daily living as another engine of inclusion. The arts and athletics are part and parcel of inclusion.

I’m working with athletes as part of the Special Olympics program, but I have attended competitions in what is called Special Olympics Unified Sports. Right now, 1.2 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports. Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team.

This blending of those living with and those without intellectual disabilities creates a win-win-win situation. This program puts these participants in a unique position of support, understanding each others’ unique talents and certainly teamwork.

Unified games include highly skilled basketball players assisting those utilizing wheelchairs and walkers. There are “able” bodied athletes who guide individuals with Down syndrome take shots. Even the officials allow for leeway with traveling and breaking of the three-second rule inside the key.

When I was a high school wrestler in Arizona, one of the most rewarding and challenging matches I had was with the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind in Tucson. I was grappling at 163 pounds, and my matches with ASDB were tougher than some of the ones I had in mining towns like Globe and Ajo.

I did follow through later at university volunteering with judo and swimming coaching for youth with disabilities. I even had the opportunity as a dive master to assist an organization providing specialized underwater wheelchair-dive equipment for divers who were physically challenged.

Eunice Shriver founded Special Olympics in 55 years ago. Shriver (1921-2009) envisioned the impact sport competitions have, believing the same positive influence would benefit people with disabilities. The creation of S.O. at the first Special Olympics Games, held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, in 1968 is the athletic competition’s birth.

Tim Shriver put it best: “If you look at her brothers and sisters and all that they accomplished, no one will stand any higher than my mother.” (source)

Life changing, life enhancing, life affirming. Special Olympics Oregon serves over 12,000 participants each year through sports, education, and athlete health programs at no cost to the athletes and their families. That’s the win-win-win we can all celebrate in March.

Muhammad Ali et al. standing together

More on Disabilities:

More and More Boys are Coming Home from School with Behavior Sheets!

When an Alien is Our Brother, Son, Friend

Working with individuals with psychiatric disabilities is pretty challenging, i.e. since getting folk housing and work is almost impossible because of the triple bias of our cutlure around: The National Institute of Mental Health reports that as many as 1 in 4 adults in the United States will suffer from a diagnosable psychiatric condition in any given year. Being in a college environment can be helpful to students with psychiatric disabilities as it often provides a structure and routine that aids students in the recovery process. Many psychological conditions are treated using a combination of medication, therapy, and support. Because of the social stigma that often accompanies psychiatric disabilities, students may be reluctant to disclose their needs for accommodations. (source)

• Anxiety / Panic Disorders
• Depressive Disorders
• Eating Disorders
• Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders
• Personality Disorders
• Post Traumatic Stress Disorders
• Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorder
• Substance Abuse

Amazing how many people live with these, and we can see that there are co-occurring disorders. Imagine, being born with an intellectual disability which is categorized as a developmental disability.  For example, within the context of education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law that aims to ensure educational services to children with disabilities throughout the nation, the definition of IDD and the types of conditions that are considered IDD might be different from the definitions and categories used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide services and support for those with disabilities. These definitions and categories might also be different from those used by healthcare providers and researchers.

It might be helpful to think about IDDs in terms of the body parts or systems they affect or how they occur. For example:

Nervous system
These disorders affect how the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system function, which can affect intelligence and learning. These conditions can also cause other issues, such as behavioral disorders, speech or language difficulties, seizures, and trouble with movement. Cerebral palsy,Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are examples of IDDs related to problems with the nervous system.

Sensory system
These disorders affect the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) or how the brain processes or interprets information from the senses. Preterm infants and infants exposed to infections, such as cytomegalovirus, may have reduced function with their eyesight and/or hearing. In addition, being touched or held can be difficult for people with ASDs.

These disorders affect how the body uses food and other materials for energy and growth. For example, how the body breaks down food during digestion is a metabolic process. Problems with these processes can upset the balance of materials available for the body to function properly. Too much of one thing, or too little of another can disrupt overall body and brain functions. Phenylketonuria (PKU) and congenital hypothyroidism are examples of metabolic conditions that can lead to IDDs.

Individuals with degenerative disorders may seem or be typical at birth and may meet usual developmental milestones for a time, but then they experience disruptions in skills, abilities, and functions because of the condition. In some cases, the disorder may not be detected until the child is an adolescent or adult and starts to show symptoms or lose abilities. Some degenerative disorders result from other conditions, such as untreated problems of metabolism. (source)

In a society with all priorities upside down, where preventative health care is counter to capitalism, where precautionary principle is laughed at, where war against nations and war against ecology-community-culture-people-thought prevails, imagine the uphill battle in the arena of recognizing people born with developmental disabilities, and the entire suite of challenges with mainstreaming, inclusion, respect.

Did that human stain get disqualified for making fun of a report with a disability? Remember?  Trump waved his arms in an bizarre and mocking manner at a rally in South Carolina while talking about a comment made by Serge Kovaleski. Kovaleski has a chronic condition called arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his arms.

No immediate calls for him to stand down and go the way of the Dodo. All those Trump supporters living with adults and youth with developmental disabilities. All those veterans with physical disabilities. Imagine how easy it would be to disqualify all these human stains for who they really are.

Trump Denies Mocking New York Times Reporter With Physical Disability | KTLA

Paul Haeder's been a teacher, social worker, newspaperman, environmental activist, and marginalized muckraker, union organizer. Paul's book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years (now going on 17 years) of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his musings at LA Progressive. Read (purchase) his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam now out, published by Cirque Journal. Here's his Amazon page with more published work Amazon. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.