At the USAID Panel last Wednesday, “From Policy to Action: Making Progress toward Disability Inclusion,” USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah stated “One billion people live with disabilities. There is an opportunity to unlock the human potential of this population.” Every day, all over the globe, people with disabilities are denied their basic human rights, denied access to health care, denied inclusion in their communities and schools and perhaps, most importantly, denied the opportunity to reach their full potential. This is an urgent issue that needs to be at the forefront of the Global Development agenda. The time is now.
One of the main themes of the USAID panel was the need for enhanced collaboration among various stakeholder groups to ensure inclusive development strategies, ensure the upholding of disability rights, and the importance of collaboration to ensure adequate representation on the development agenda. These stakeholders include governments, NGOs, corporations, multilateral organizations, community leaders and civil society as a whole. According to the World Report on Disability, a joint publication by the World Bank and the World Health Organization, people with disabilities are often the most marginalized and vulnerable group and in order to achieve human rights for all, those with disabilities cannot be left in the shadows.
Sports are a critical component to addressing, and potentially reducing, this marginalization. Sport has the power to change lives, mobilize communities and empower people to take action. As the most decorated Paralympic athlete and founder of One Revolution Foundation, Chris Waddell, pointed out, “Sports is a way into inclusion because it is a common bond.”
Every day, Special Olympics uses the power of sport to change the way the world sees people who have intellectual disabilities. Lives are changed. This positive life impact rests not only with Special Olympics athletes, but with peers, families, communities, and onlookers, leaving us one step closer to making the impossible possible for those with disabilities. It’s a powerful way to think about global change through local community building. The challenge is great, and the work cannot stop here. It must transcend beyond the playing field at Special Olympics events. It is going to take a (global) village of individuals, communities, corporations, NGOs, multilateral organizations, governments and others to fight this fight so that every person with disabilities is able to reach their full potential.
While the process of bringing all these diverse stakeholders together around this urgent need is daunting and complex, at least one billion people (including the more than 200 million with intellectual disabilities) are relying on us. At a human level, there is no difference between me and children and adults with intellectual disabilities living in the developing world, bound by discrimination, isolation, misunderstanding and poverty. At an earthly level, the difference is that we were born into vastly different worlds with different opportunities, but there is a larger picture to paint here. There is a picture emerging that brings all community actors together to celebrate this change, to celebrate this unlocked potential, and to celebrate the unique contributions that those with disabilities can provide to their village, their community, their team.
Will you join our village in helping make the impossible possible?