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Special Olympics and Other Recreation Programs

The Special Olympics, founded by the Kennedy family in 1968, is the largest organization officially recognized by the IOC as a sports movement for mentally and physically disabled people in the United States. The philosophy of the Special Olympics is to improve our overall society through the awareness and acceptance of those with intellectual and physical disabilities.

History of the Special Olympics

In 1968, the Kennedy Foundation teamed up with the Chicago Park District and organized the first International Special Olympics Games. The Games were held on Chicago's Soldier Field, with around 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada who were classified as having intellectual disabilities. Sports included various athletics like floor hockey and swimming. In 1977, the first Special Olympics Winter Games were held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. More than 500 athletes competed in skiing and skating disciplines. Several U.S. television stations reported about the event.

The first official Special Olympics Rule Book was published in 1984 and in 1986, the International Special Olympics was held in New York City, gaining the famous motto "Special Olympics - Uniting the World." In 1992, the organization came back to the Big Apple, celebrating its 25th birthday.

The Special Olympics Today

The 2013 Special Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea were the largest in the Olympics brief history. It saw competition from every continent as thousands of competitors took their chance at snowboarding, speed-skating, figure skating, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing and several other sports.

The world class event showcased plenty of talent, as it always does, and a wide range of supporters, media and sponsors. The Special Games alternate between winter and summer games.

Similar Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

Paralympics- The idea to let people with physical disabilities participate in sports came from England. After World War II, many people had come back wounded. Many people, soldiers and civilians, had lost an arm, a leg or both. In some cases, they were paralyzed and could not walk. These war veterans decided to organize sports competitions for people with physical disabilities. In 1948, the English town of Aylesbury held the "Stoke Mandeville Games." Archery was the only sport in the beginning but the founders wanted to further the competition to an international stage. In 1960, the idea became a reality.

After the Olympic Games in Rome, the first Paralympics Games were held. 400 wheelchair athletes from 21 nations took part. Later on athletes with an amputation or a sensory disability, like the hearing or visually impaired were allowed to participate. At the 2008 Beijing games, 4,127 athletes from 148 countries competed.

Wheelchair Sports

Using a wheelchair as a means of enabling someone to play sports has been gaining momentum for the last few decades. People with physical disabilities are now able to participate in everyday sporting events just like they would if they had no physical disabilities. Here is a short list of wheelchair sports and their description:

Wheelchair curling- This sport is perfect for athletes that have disabilities affecting their lower limbs. This game is played just like regular curling is, meaning the same rocks and the same ice are used. The only difference is that the rocks are thrown from the wheelchair and sweeping is not allowed.

Wheelchair racing- Racers with spinal cord injuries, partially sighted vision or those who have cerebral palsy or amputated limbs are perfect for this type of game. Athletes will race on road and tracks to win the race.

Wheelchair rugby- Rugby rules do not apply here. In fact, all it shares with the actual game is the name. You must have some loss of function in at least three limbs to be able to play the sport. Most people that play this sport are quadriplegics.

Wheelchair tennis- Athletes who have disabilities in their lower limbs usually play this sport. Same rules apply as in regular tennis accept with some minor exceptions.

Other sports that fit into this category are wheelchair basketball, wheelchair hockey, wheelchair soccer and wheelchair football (American).

Wheelchair Safety

Some tips to remain safe while in a wheelchair include when sitting in your wheelchair, make sure you maintain a good center-of-gravity. It is also important that before practicing everyday activities, you familiarize yourself with the wheelchair in the presence of someone else before doing it alone. Always practice going up and down a ramp or slope with someone else before doing it alone. The same goes for curbs. If you have to bend, lean or reach forward, make sure you lock the wheel brakes first while maintaining a firm position. If you own a power wheelchair, never go faster than you can handle. When traveling, make sure your wheelchair is safe for travel. It should have a "transport safe" label on it. When transporting, make sure the wheelchair is tied down.