On Monday, the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services held an event with the theme “Family: A Gift that Makes a Difference.” As part of the event at the Massachusetts State House, the department commissioner presented the 2013 Allen Crocker M.D. Health Services Award to a dear friend of our family – the Special Olympics Movement – and a major general in our dignity revolution – Dr. Steve Perlman.
As I thought about the gifts that Steve has given to people with intellectual disabilities over the years and all over the world, it occurred to me that there is no more appropriate theme, but also that I can’t even begin to calculate the difference he has made. Steve is the founder of Special Olympics Special Smiles, the global screening program that has provided hundreds of thousands of free dental exams and related services to our athletes. He was also a major catalyst for the development of our overall health program.
It is hard to imagine the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program being the success it is without Steve’s tireless efforts. The numbers say a lot – Healthy Athletes has provided more than 1.4 million free health screenings and trained more than 100,000 health care workers to be more compassionate and knowledgeable about the health needs of people with intellectual disabilities. The individual stories of athletes say even more. Healthy Athletes has saved the lives of athletes with cancer and other diseases. It has relived the pain of athletes who needed root canals and other conditions that often plagued them for years. And, even when the issues are not life and death, it has helped athletes be more confident by correcting cosmetic dental problems and other issues that help them socially as well as medically.
I believe that the difference that each of us makes in the world is best measured not by what others say, or even by what we do – but by what we create. What Steve Perlman is creating is a legacy of caring, of social justice, of commitment to health and wellbeing. Those have been and continue to be Steve’s gifts to the Special Olympics Movement, and for them, I am eternally grateful.