The forgotten 200 million

By Timothy P. Shriver, Ph.D, chairman and board member of the Special Olympics

Did you know that if you were a person with a disability living in a developing country, you would be less likely to be vaccinated, to sleep under an anti-malarial bed net, and to have clean water to drink?

Did you know that if you were a person with a disability, whether you lived in a developing country or not, you would get worse health care than the population at large, and face much greater difficulties in securing education and employment?

And if your disability happened to be an intellectual disability, you would be getting the worst of the worst in terms of health care and other social services, and with respect to inclusion in your community and your very human rights.

Special Olympics is committed to changing the shocking reality that the world’s approximately 200 million people with intellectual disabilities are the forgotten segment of the planet’s poorest.

You might not automatically connect Special Olympics with global health and development. Special Olympics does sports, doesn’t it?  Its athletes, families, coaches and volunteers are best known for unleashing the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports every day, right?

Absolutely correct on both counts. Special Olympics offers over 32 Olympic-style individual and team sports that provide meaningful training and competition opportunities to 4.2 million athletes in 170-plus countries, with over 70,000 competition events a year.  Nearly all Special Olympics athletes – more than 90 percent – report increased self-esteem and confidence as a result of participating in our sports.

But Special Olympics is also a global movement of people creating a new world of inclusion and community.

Our movement provides health care, education, and community-building for its athletes and their families, with 75 percent of our athletes living outside the United States. Putting those facts together explains why Special Olympics wants to help ensure that no one is left behind in the efforts to achieve the Millennium Development goals and the post-2015 development agenda –  and why we are co-hosting with Her Excellency Dr. Joyce Banda, President of the Republic of Malawi, a historic gathering in Lilongwe, Malawi next week.

President Banda is a champion for the rights of people with disabilities in her country and in Africa, and the gathering we are co-hosting on February 10 is the African Leaders Forum on Disability.

African leaders from governments, disability and global development organizations, the private sector, and civil society, along with Special Olympics athletes and representatives, will establish a coalition to support people with disabilities achieving human rights, social services, and full inclusion in their communities.

Now, people with disabilities face toweringly high barriers in accessing health care, food and nutrition, education, employment, transport and, central to all of these, inclusion in their communities. At the Forum, we will identify how to achieve the good data and strategic interventions needed to tear down those barriers.

We will be reporting to the ONE community as the Forum takes place, on the outcomes, and about what you can do to help governments and global health and development organizations stop forgetting the most marginalized people on earth.  

Read more about the African Leaders Forum on Disability here.

Follow us on Twitter @TimShriver and @SpecialOlympics; use hashtags #DisabilityDavos and #InclusiveAfrica to follow the Forum. Learn more about Special Olympics at www.SpecialOlympics.org