Defunding the Special Olympics: Increasing Stigmatization of People with Intellectual Disabilities

President Trump has proposed cutting the funding for the Special Olympics for the third year in a row. The administration has proposed a $10.1 million, $12.6 million, and $17.6 million for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 fiscal years respectively (Snopes.com). Trump, in his usual style, places the blame for the extremely unpopular proposal on his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, saying that she has “overridden my people” in order to fund Special Olympics. 

Mr. Trump, your covert misogyny will not hide your overt ableism. (By the way, originally, the cut to Special Olympics was in order to fund “increased national security and public safety”.)

The Special Olympics wouldn’t flounder without support from the Department of Education. They make hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The proposed defunding has less to do with money than it has to do with the Special Olympics mission to promote acceptance and inclusion of all people. 

This public push for defunding is an open statement by the President and his administration, reinforcing that these marginalized people are essentially expendable. Moves like this from people with power are what inspires uneducated people to express their bigoted views and act in discriminatory ways.

You might be asking yourself why I have a dog in this fight. Both of my older sisters participate in Special Olympic activities. They’ve brought home numerous medals of all colors. In fact, one of them won a gold medal in pickle ball during our local Games this past summer. The Special Olympics awards them the confidence that they can accomplish just as much as anyone else can. The activities run by the Special Olympics allow them and athletes like them a time to just be, and not feel “different” for once. 

(Photo Courtesy of Special Olympics)

Many people have no idea the impact that the Special Olympics has for its athletes. For that time, they are not their disabilities, they are all their abilities and strengths and talents. Athletes come home, and it’s almost all they can talk about. The chance to compete gives them so much more than words can even express. 

Moreover, the Special Olympics provides the much-needed education to people privileged to be living without an intellectual disability. I’d argue that the Special Olympics does just as much for people without intellectual disability as it does for the athletes competing. The Games allow people who may have never encountered a people with an intellectual disability in their life to interact with and be amazed by the skills of other people. 

Many people are afraid or unsure of how to engage with these individuals. News Flash: people with intellectual disabilities are f***ing people, not their seemingly alienating disabilities, and the Special Olympics shows that in a way that a class could never. The best way to educate people on intellectual disabilities is to introduce them to people living with intellectual disability. That connection dissolves the superficial wall that our society has built between us and cultivates the acceptance of all people. 

By brushing off the importance that Special Olympics has to our society, the Trump administration is yet again endorsing ignorance and estrangement of people who don’t fit into a very narrow definition of normal. They’re permitting the continued misunderstanding, discrimination, and mistreatment of these people. They’re normalizing social alienation, which is incredibly hurtful to these people who want to be included.

I’m calling on all of us to speak out against their negligent disregard for acceptance of difference. I’m calling on all of us to #ChooseToInclude