What does it mean to be included in unified sports: Youths' perspectives on inclusion


Inclusion in the community is a human right and a major focus of government (e.g., Accessible Canada Act) and organizations (e.g., Special Olympics) alike. Specifically, Unified Sports is Special Olympics' global initiative to promote and provide an 'inclusive' sporting opportunity to athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. In May 2019, 1674 Special Olympics Unified Sports athletes took part in the inaugural Invitational Youth Games. The 'Games' united teams from around the world, affording an opportunity to explore the experiences and perspectives of athletes with and without disabilities with Unified Sports and, more broadly, inclusion. Over the four days of the 'Games,' 22 interviews with athletes were conducted (13 with disability; 10 girls/women; 2 athletics, 12 basketball, 7 bocce, 1 floor hockey; ages 13 – 22) by a team of researchers. An inductive thematic analysis was conducted from an interpretivist's perspective to explore the data. Two themes were interpreted, each having two sub-themes. The first theme, "Inclusion?", explores the youth athletes' perceptions, understandings, and expressions of inclusion in the sub-themes "Not As Described" and "Language Of Inclusion." The second them, "Happy to Be Involved", explores the positive foundation for fostering inclusion beyond the sport environment and the shortcomings of such an endeavour: "Vehicle of Community Inclusion?" and "Welcoming Environment." Through our collaboration with Special Olympics Ontario, we can improve upon the Unified Sports opportunities provided via coach and teacher education. Specifically, we must improve on the practical 'meaning' of inclusion and its actualization in programs such as Unified Sports.

Acknowledgments: Funding provided by Special Olympics Canada.