The World Health Organization estimates that “nearly 15% of the world’s population lives with some form a disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning”. As such, addressing the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities has emerged as a significant human rights and foreign policy issue in the 21st century.
Organizations and individuals are increasingly seeking to find new and innovative ways to promote tolerance and inclusion and strengthened social connections between those with and those without disabilities. One such program is Unified Sports, an inclusive sports program that unites Special Olympics athletes (individuals with intellectual disabilities) and partners (individuals without intellectual disabilities) as teammates for training and competition. According to DIPNOTE, “Sports are an avenue through which persons with disabilities can be treated equally — building self-esteem and confidence that enhances participation in everyday life.” Through various sports, individuals and communities are able to foster a sense of belonging, which contributes to the overall well-being of the collective group.
In a recent video feature by Unified Sports, Joe Pignatelli Jr. shares his experience playing Unified basketball and how it changed his life. Through his story, Joe expresses how Unified Sports helped him grow from feeling invisible to finding his own way to belong. As he says, being on the basketball team was “a chance to play on a team, represent my school and community, have teammates, and make friends – I wanted all of that, just like we all do”.
Through the basketball team, the entire school was able to bond together – cultivating a sense of community and allowing all of the students to feel connected to one another. Now, Joe uses his voice to challenge you, “to promote acceptance, to promote understanding, to promote real inclusion. To get to know people, not their labels”.
To find out more about Unified Sports and how you can get involved, visit their website.