News and Articles

Voices from the Movement: Tim Shriver on COVID-19 and People with Intellectual Disabilities

May 21, 2020

Tim Shriver is the Chair of the Special Olympics International (SOI) Board of Directors as well as the Co-Founder and Chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Tim is also the Co-Founder of Unite, a civic and social issues initiative.  Since joining Special Olympics in 1996, Tim has been an advocate and a leading educator focusing on the social and emotional factors in learning.

In addition to being one of SCSC’s partners in the biennial Global Symposium on Overcoming Social Isolation and Deepening Social Connectedness, The Samuel Family Foundation has also worked with SOI for several years to expand the capacity and resources of their Sibling Engagement program. SOI and SCSC have also been collaborating on research through our Social Connectedness Fellowship to identify the unique challenges facing refugees with disabilities and people with profound/multiple disabilities, and to explore solutions such as time banking and inclusive post-secondary school programs.

We are pleased to share a recent op-ed by Tim in the Washington Post published on May 13, 2020, where he urges us to develop a collective understanding of the threats posed by inequity in light of COVID-19. Sharing the remarks of Special Olympics pioneer and Chief Inspiration Officer Loretta Claiborne on the experience of isolation being a familiar feeling long before COVID-19, Tim encourages us to respond to this crisis by re-evaluating what we value and ensuring that we do not leave behind the historically isolated members of our community. In addition to generations of social marginalization, public ridicule, segregated education, and inadequate health care, people with intellectual disabilities are now facing increased vulnerability to the novel coronavirus, partly because a quarter of adults with intellectual disabilities live in group homes. As Tim highlights in his op-ed, this crisis offers a renewed opportunity to critically examine our care infrastructure to ensure equitable treatment and compassionate support for all, without exceptions.

No one needs to tell people with intellectual disabilities about social isolation. Special Olympics, which I chair, began more than 50 years ago as a rebellion against the unjust separation and institutionalization of millions of people around the world. Many of our athletes and their families had been mocked, isolated or locked away — not for weeks but lifetimes.

Novel coronavirus lockdowns touch something deep among our community. “Isolation isn’t new to me,” Loretta Claiborne, a Special Olympics pioneer and chief inspiration officer, said during “the Call to Unite,” a recent live stream unifying leaders around the globe. “I’ve dealt with it my whole life.”

She was speaking about things that people with intellectual disabilities have fought for generations: social marginalization, public ridicule, segregated education, inadequate health care. The covid-19 pandemic hasn’t lessened these struggles. It has, however, clarified that ending the pandemic of disease requires also ending the pandemic of division and inequality. Covid-19 is a viral threat that knows no labels and respects no social norms. Unless everyone is treated, the disease can’t be eradicated. No exceptions.

Read more in the Washington Post.