September 25, 2022
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Special Olympics Unified sports: Are they inclusive enough?

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Wherever Rosemary Parisi goes in Mount Olive, she meets people who know her daughter, Gabriella.

GiGi, who has Down syndrome, was a year-round, general-education athlete at Mount Olive High School and Homecoming queen. She even appeared on a Times Square billboard, sponsored by the National Down Syndrome Society. 

Sports have been key to GiGi’s popularity, surprising even Rosemary, a special education teacher at MacKinnon Middle School in Wharton.

GiGi was part of the Mount Olive field hockey, basketball and softball teams alongside her neurotypical peers. She also participates with Mount Olive’s Special Olympics Unified track and field program, which blends students with intellectual disabilities and neurotypical partners.

Unified clubs, teams and events often require lower time commitments than their general-education equivalents. But there are few limitations on what can be called Unified, or how inclusive those programs should be.

Mount Olive's Gabriella "GiGi" Parisi is ready to hand off to Matt Montello during the 4x200 at the NJAC Unified track and field Championships on May 24, 2018 at Jefferson Township High School.

David May of Morristown thinks Unified is more restrictive than promised by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. The related Individuals with Disabilities Education Act makes free appropriate public education available to more than 7.5 million eligible children with disabilities – in the least restrictive environment – and ensures special education and related services.

May would prefer students with special needs to compete alongside gen-ed athletes on a single team. But Unified does not allow in-season varsity athletes to be team partners, so their background and experience with activities vary. 





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