As part of Special Olympics Project UNIFY, I often get the opportunity to meet and hear stories from amazing young people who are actively working to make their schools more inclusive of people with intellectual disabilities. These youth are inspiring agents of respect and continue to drive our efforts here at Special Olympics.
One such example is High School sophomore Daniel Keever, who below shares insight and wisdom beyond his years. Daniel has been involved with Special Olympics for the past four years as a volunteer, unified partner and coach, and most recently became a member of the Delaware Youth Activation Committee.
Imagine a world where people actively encouraged and included other people no matter their skin color, personal preferences, or their mental or physical abilities.
Picture a place where people were not withheld from doing an activity they loved because they were “different”.
Wouldn’t our society be a better place?
Four years ago, I began volunteering for service hours with Special Olympics as an event volunteer. Soon enough I was hooked on the atmosphere of excitement and the joy created by the athletes and events. Whether it was congratulating the swimmers when they finished, or dancing around outside at the picnic with the athletes, there was always some exciting activity full of athletes and volunteers having fun together.
It was there I noticed something.
I had always thought I was doing something extra important by taking my time to build up someone different than myself, but in reality, these people really were friends to me. Instead of it being some medal-awarding good deed, it became something I looked forward to greatly. I realized that these athletes, even with disabilities, had more in common with me than I had ever thought.
I found myself enjoying their company the more I hung out with them and I realized that they were my friends, and not just people I was making feel special. The thing I have learned the most from Special Olympics is to look past differences because the more you do, the more they disappear.
In a “what if” world, we need to be willing to take that first step to include and accept people where they are because eventually it becomes habitual.
We have created a misconception that people that are different from us must not be as good as us. Before we judge people based on our differences, we need to take time to understand what it is that makes us different. And who knows? You might not look at them as differences any more.