Siblings have been a force of innovation and activism in the Special Olympics movement from the earliest days. When Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, grew up, her sister Rosemary did not look any different than her other siblings. Rosemary loved to play and swim and sail, enjoy and excel at all the outdoor sports that Eunice also loved.
But in the outside world, beyond the safety of the immediate family, Rosemary encountered prejudice and humiliation. When Rosemary’s parents tried to find the right school for her, they were greeted with closed hearts and closed doors. People saw no future for anyone with intellectual disability; “Experts” advised that attempts at education would be a waste of time – and only lead to disappointment. These dismissive attitudes nurtured the Eunice Crusade for the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. More than 50 years later, Eunice’s inclusion movement – Special Olympics – has excited the world and continues to inspire young people, especially those who share Eunice’s experience of being a sibling to a person with a disability.
For the Brazilian brothers Samuel and Fabio, school is a place to learn, play and interact with peers. But their experiences were always different because Samuel had autism and language problems and he faced prejudice and social exclusion as a result of his disability. As of 2015, Brazilian law required all schools to be non-discriminatory and welcome students of all abilities. But despite the law, teachers and administrators struggled for years with how to transfer physical integration to social integration in their school communities.
This split-screen education changed when Play Unified: Learn Unified was launched in 2018. Special Olympics Brazil established Unified Schools across the northeastern state of Pernambuco and created a range of Unified activities, including football, physical education, management seminars, and family forums. Through this groundbreaking initiative, students with disabilities were brought out of their separate classrooms and encouraged to participate with their peers. Siblings like Samuel and Fabio could finally play on the same sports team – which marked a monumental milestone for the two brothers. Fabio acknowledges that he was uniquely positioned to have witnessed Samuel’s many abilities firsthand – as well as his unfair treatment at the hands of society. Now thanks Play Unified: Learn Unified, Fabio no longer has to navigate a learning environment that happily recognizes him but ignores his brother. Instead, both siblings now experience the joy of being included and accepted in the hall of their school.