The Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi may have ended two years ago, but its legacy of inclusion and integration continues to shape the UAE.
The opening of a new exhibition at Emirates Palace hotel this week celebrates the impact of the 2019 global sporting event.
The display, A Journey of Determination, highlights the stories of people whose lives were changed by the games.
It was opened by Sheikh Khalid Bin Mohammed bin Zayed, member of Abu Dhabi Executive Council and chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Office.
The exhibition explores the games’ legacy through eight themes: education, well-being, community, sport, arts, youth, and leadership and business.
Sheikh Khalid reaffirmed Abu Dhabi’s commitment to becoming the most inclusive place for people of determination and praised the tangible impact of the work carried out since the games to enhance inclusion and ensure a dignified life for people of determination.
He emphasised the importance of continuously introducing new approaches to schooling and education.
These include sports and arts activities, career opportunities and community initiatives to enhance the independence of young people of determination.
The exhibition will run until April 22.
“The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 has proven that with courage, determination and willpower, there is no limit to what people of determination can achieve,” said Talal Al Hashemi, national director of Special Olympics UAE.
“Two years have passed since the World Games and our priority at the Special Olympics UAE has been to continue the legacy and maintain inclusive initiatives for our athletes, their families and communities across every sphere.”
An Olympic legacy of inclusion
In March 2019, the Special Olympics welcomed more than 7,000 athletes of determination from more than 200 nations to the emirate, to take part in the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event.
More than 20,000 volunteers from across the UAE also mobilised to support the Games in various roles, from communications and event organisation to athlete liaison.
“The Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 celebrated inclusion and the UAE’s commitment to empowering people of determination to follow their dreams,” said Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khali, chairman of the Department of Community Development.
“As the two-year anniversary is celebrated, the legacy of the games continues and Abu Dhabi is leading in launching initiatives and programmes to show people of determination that there is no limit when it comes to what they can achieve.
“The UAE is proud of its legacy of inclusion and looks forward to implementing more strategies to create a more inclusive society that allows all people to fulfil their potential.”
Held during the Year of Tolerance, the Special Olympics broke records by welcoming the most nations in the history of the event.
The UAE was also the first nation in the Mena region to stage the Games.
Integrated school programmes
“For us, this exhibition will help commemorate hosting the largest Special Olympics World Games in history, but most importantly it tells the story of the legacy of these games, and sends a message to the public that the legacy of inclusion is still a priority for our leadership,” said Tala Al Ramahi, a board member of Special Olympics UAE.
“Through this exhibition, we hope that people understand how important it is to integrate people with all disabilities into society.
“There are many legacies that have been created by the games, but the most important one is that it created a platform for us to speak about disabilities, and to break the barriers of shame that are associated with disabilities.
“There has been noticeable improvement in employment and the integration of people in our mainstream schools.
"A large part of this is due to the unified schools championship programme that was launched during the games."
The unified school championship programme pairs school pupils with and without disabilities for sports.
Connecting children in mainstream schools with those in special needs centres became mandatory in all public schools on April 5.
In September last year, Abu Dhabi also launched a landmark strategy to unlock the potential of people with disabilities and ensure their place at the heart of society.
The programme involves 30 initiatives over five years across eight fields, including health and education. It will also encompass more than 28 local and federal government bodies.
The plan, which will run until 2024, aims to create an “inclusive and enabling community”.