Sport and Disability: The Special Olympics Youth Unified Sports® Programme

Sandra Dowling, Sabine Menke, Roy McConkey, David Hassan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The value of sport extends beyond its physical challenges, health benefits or competitive expression, it is known to hold an integral social value with the potential to bring together disparate groups, dispel stigmatizing myths and promote community cohesion. In 2007 the European Commission highlighted the importance of Sport as a vehicle for generating a shared sense of belonging and participation and as a valuable tool in the development of social inclusion, particularly amongst marginalized groups (European Commission on Sport 2007). People with disabilities represent one such marginalized group. The Commission recommends that sports organizations should adapt their infrastructure to take account of the needs of people with disabilities. Primarily this is in terms of ensuring the accessibility of buildings, and providing training to volunteers and staff in sports clubs so that they are able to welcome people with disabilities. ( chapter will discuss a programme hosted by Special Olympics that aims to promote the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities through sport, namely the Unified Sports Programme. During 2009-10, an evaluation of this programme, as a model for social inclusion, was carried out by the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, in association with Special Olympics Europe-Eurasia This chapter will draw on data (using quotations from participants) from this evaluation as it examines the organisation of the Unified Sports programme, both at a structural and practical level. The chapter will also discuss the critical role of programme leaders in delivering the Unified concept. First, following a brief summary of the evaluation methods, and by way of context, this discussion will highlight the common forms of marginalisation experienced by people with intellectual disabilities, and the known benefits to this group of participation in sport whilst it will also provide some background on the Special Olympics movement in a broader sense.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationManaging Sport Social and Cultural Perspectives
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-57216
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Jan 2013


  • Sport
  • Disability
  • Special Olympics


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