Special Olympics Unified sports: Are they inclusive enough?

Special Olympics Unified sports: Are they inclusive enough?

Wherever Rosemary Parisi goes in Mount Olive, she meets people who know her daughter Gabriella.

Gigi, who has Down syndrome, was a year-round educator athlete at Mount Olive High School and a homecoming queen. It was even featured on the Times Square Billboard, sponsored by the National Down Syndrome Society.

Sports have been central to GiGi’s popularity, surprising even Rosemary, a special education teacher at Wharton’s MacKinnon Middle School.

GiGi was part of the hockey, basketball and softball teams at Mount Olive along with her peers of the spooky style. She also participates in the Special Olympics Unified Track and Field Program at Mount Olive, which mixes students with intellectual disabilities and neurotypical partners.

Clubs, teams, and standardized events often require fewer time commitments than their general education counterparts. But there are few limitations to what can be called standardized, or how comprehensive those programs are.

Mount Olive Gabriella

David May of Morristown believes Unified is more restrictive than the Americans with Disabilities Act promises.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides for appropriate free public education for more than 7.5 million eligible children with disabilities – in the least restrictive environment – and ensures special education and related services.

Students with special needs may prefer to compete alongside special needs athletes on one team. But Unified does not allow in-season athletes to be team partners, so their backgrounds and experiences vary with the activities.

Leave a Comment