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Michael Gerson: The Olympics of joy

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: February 27, 2013

A human rights organization

Viewing the intellectually disabled as athletes has aided a civil rights revolution — changing individual lives and social perceptions. And Special Olympics is carrying that revolution to a global scale. How many of the poor in the developing world are further disadvantaged, stigmatized and isolated by disability? We don't really know. The world measures what it values — things like stock values and commodity prices. There is little good information on the struggles of the intellectually disabled. But Special Olympics programs in 170 countries are calling attention to the uncounted. In many places, Special Olympics has become a front-line human rights organization.

Not that America — where thousands of children with Down syndrome are aborted each year based on prenatal diagnosis — has much standing to judge. Raising a child with a disability — getting adequate services in school, helping the transition to adulthood — remains difficult in ways that are hard for outsiders to imagine.

But in dealing with struggles we would not envy, disabled children and their parents have created a form of community we should honor — where worth is not contingent on accomplishment, and people strive without fear of failure, and affection is freely given, and some get a few extra shots, and bravery is common. Everyone, it turns out, is dependent and vulnerable — and sacred and able. And the most remarkable thing about that discovery is the sheer joy of it.