Special Olympics Unified Sports in AB High Schools

The Cause

Unified Sports® is defined as the promotion of social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, and is accomplished through joining people with intellectual disabilities on the same team as their peers without a disability. It was inspired by a simple principle: training and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

In Canada there is a gap in sport offerings available to students with an intellectually disability; and where there are opportunities, these students are often segregated from their peers. The Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA) in partnership with Special Olympics Alberta (SOA) are seeking funding to help in supporting Unified Sports® in high school across the province.

The need for such an offering is evident; currently there exist challenges that prevent over 6,000 students with an intellectual disability (based on Alberta Education numbers) from participating in sport at the high school level; most significant is the lack of both cooperative and competitive sporting opportunities. While there are significantly fewer students with disabilities than without disabilities, there is no reason that there should not be equal opportunity for those with disabilities to participate in a high school sport activity. Currently there are no opportunities for students with intellectual disability unless they participate in mainstream athletics; there are some instances of this occurring right now, but they are the exception, not the norm. Perhaps this minimal involvement at the school level also means that there has not been much interest in sport from students with an intellectual disability because there were no sport offerings that catered to them. We would like to change that.

SOA and ASAA are currently in a pilot year of this program and we see great potential based on early responses from schools. http://www.teachers.ab.ca/Publications/ATA%20News/Volume%2050%202015-16/Number-14/Pages/Pilot-program.aspx

Who Will it Benefit?

Students with and without intellectual disabilities within the school setting.

Potential Impact (from U.S. data)
• Two thirds, or 66%, of school liaisons observed that Unified Sports® helps raise awareness about students with intellectual disabilities and increases opportunities for students with and without intellectual disabilities to work together;
• More than half of school liaisons observed that Unified Sports® increases opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to get involved in school activities;
• Three quarters, or 74%, of participating students said Unified Sports® was a positive turning point in their lives and that they became more patient, learned to compromise, and in two thirds of instances said they learned they have things in common with their peers with intellectual disabilities;
• Nearly all school liaisons and students said they would like to participate next year and that Unified Sports® was successful at their school.