Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

JOINING the FIGHT for HUMAN RIGHTS: Special Olympics Has Found That People with Intellectual Disabilities Are Being Excluded from National Laws and Policies in Countries around the World

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

JOINING the FIGHT for HUMAN RIGHTS: Special Olympics Has Found That People with Intellectual Disabilities Are Being Excluded from National Laws and Policies in Countries around the World

Article excerpt

To the rest of the world, human rights are assumed and not questioned. Special Olympics fights for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) to obtain the same human rights as everyone else. Human rights are defined as universal freedoms and entitlements all human beings share, whatever their race, nationality, place of residence, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, political belief or any other status such as "intellectual disability".

Human rights protect the values of all people with intellectual disabilities, such as equality and dignity, in many areas: civil (e.g., voting), political (e.g., participating in government), economic (e.g., working), social (e.g., accessing health care facilities and goods) and cultural (e.g. enjoying the benefits of sports, play and scientific progress). Based on governmental agreements, human rights are granted to all persons (with or without intellectual disabilities). These rights are enforced by large governing bodies like the United Nations, the European Union or national human rights commissions.

Special Olympics has found that people with intellectual disabilities are being excluded from national laws and policies in countries around the world. Some of the most serious infractions are involuntary admissions of people with ID to mental institutions, lack of protocol of decisionmaking processes in medical situations, and a lack of health workers who have the knowledge to treat patients with ID.

Dustin Plunkett, a Special Olympics athlete from California, grew up with constant oral health problems. He remembers his gums swelling up at least once a month. Then, during the Special Olympics Southern California Summer Games, Dustin and his coach visited the Healthy Athletes tent. His dental screening revealed some serious problems with his teeth and gums and was referred for a follow-up appointment. He subsequently received a devastating diagnosis: oral cancer. Dustin underwent a difficult surgery to remove a tooth and an inch of gum, but he has since been cancer-free. Dustin credits Special Olympics with saving his life.

Another success story is Zuebeyde Horus. A Special Olympics athlete from Turkey, Zuebeyde was living with a serious heart condition, but her caretakers didn't know--until a volunteer doctor at Healthy Athletes discovered it. "We realized that she had a serious heart murmur, told her trainer that she should not participate in any other sports activity and should be referred to a cardiologist for echocardiographic imaging," said Dr. Erhan Sayali, a clinical director who organizes Medfest, one of eight Healthy Athletes disciplines, for Special Olympics Turkey.

At a follow-up appointment, Zuebeyde was diagnosed with Atrioventricular septal defect. The condition is a hole between the various chambers and valves of the heart which causes abnormal blood flow and forces the heart to work much harder than it normally would. This type of defect is closely associated with intellectual disability; it is estimated that 45 percent of children with Down syndrome have some type of congenital heart disease. Zuebeyde underwent life-saving surgery within days of being diagnosed. "Treatment effectively doubled or tripled Zuebeyde's life expectancy --adding 20 to 40 years of life," said Dr. Matthew Holder, Global Medical Advisor for Healthy Athletes. "I hope other Programs will be inspired by this success. …

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