When do Special Olympics take place?

Special Olympics BC sports programs are offered year-round in 55 communities around British Columbia. Special Olympics Games take place on a four-year competition cycle for summer and winter sports. Find more information about our upcoming Games here.

Is Special Olympics for individuals with physical disabilities?

Special Olympics is for people with intellectual disabilities. The Paralympics primarily involve athletes with physical disabilities. (There are Special Olympics athletes who are able to compete in the Paralympics, but the Paralympics and Special Olympics are distinct.) Learn more

Is Special Olympics just for kids?

Special Olympics welcomes athletes with intellectual disabilities of all ages, including children as young as 2, youth, and adults. Many athletes are involved in Special Olympics programs throughout their lives.

Of the more than 5,200 athletes currently involved in Special Olympics BC programs, approximately 75 per cent are adults. Current SOBC athletes range in age from two to 92.

Are Special Olympics Games held right after the regular Olympic Games?

No. The Paralympics are held right after the generic Olympics, and involve athletes with a physical disability. (There are Special Olympics athletes who are able to compete in the Paralympics, but the Paralympics and Special Olympics are distinct.) Learn more

Who is eligible to participate in Special Olympics Games?

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics competitions, athletes must be at least eight years old and identified as having an intellectual disability. Athletes must be at least 12 years old to compete in Provincial Games, and at least 14 years old to compete in National Games.

How prevalent are intellectual disabilities?

Intellectual disabilities know no boundaries. They cut across the lines of racial, ethnic, educational, social, and economic backgrounds and can occur in any family. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 200 million people, or three per cent of the world’s population, have intellectual disabilities – the largest disability population in the world. Learn more

What is the appropriate language to be used when referring to Special Olympics athletes?

So that emphasis is placed on the person, and not their condition, the preferred language is:
Jane Public, a person with an intellectual disability
Jane Public, who has an intellectual disability

Words matter. Words can open doors to cultivate the understanding and respect that enable people with disabilities to lead fuller, more independent lives. Words can also create barriers or stereotypes that are not only demeaning to people with disabilities, but also rob them of their individuality. The following language guidelines have been developed by experts for use by anyone writing or speaking about people with intellectual disabilities to ensure that all people are portrayed with individuality and dignity.

Special Olympics prefers to focus on people and their gifts and accomplishments, and to dispel negative attitudes and stereotypes. As language has evolved, Special Olympics has updated its official terminology to use standard terminology that is more acceptable to our athletes. We use "people-first language" - example: refer to people with intellectual disabilities, rather than "intellectually disabled people." See more tips below.

Appropriate terminology

  • Refer to participants in Special Olympics as "Special Olympics athletes" rather than "Special Olympians" or "Special Olympic athletes."
  • Refer to individuals, persons or people with intellectual disabilities, rather than "intellectually disabled people" or "the intellectually disabled."
  • A person has an intellectual disability, rather than is "suffering from," is "afflicted with" or is "a victim of" intellectual disabilities.
  • Distinguish between adults and children with intellectual disabilities. Use adults or children, or older or younger athletes.
  • "Down syndrome" has replaced "Down’s Syndrome" and "mongoloid."
  • Refer to participants in Special Olympics as athletes. In no case should the word athletes appear in quotation marks.
  • In formal documents, refer to persons with a disability in the same style as persons without a disability: full name on first reference and last name on subsequent references. Do not refer to an individual with an intellectual disability as "Bill" rather than the journalistically correct "Bill Smith" or "Smith."
  • Use the words "Special Olympics" when referring to the worldwide Special Olympics movement.

Terminology to avoid

  • Do not use the label "kids" when referring to all Special Olympics athletes. Adult athletes are an integral part of the movement.
  • Do not use the word "the" in front of Special Olympics unless describing a specific Special Olympics event or official.
  • Do not use the adjective "unfortunate" when talking about persons with intellectual disabilities. Disabling conditions do not have to be life-defining in a negative way.
  • Do not sensationalize the accomplishments of persons with disabilities. While these accomplishments should be recognized and applauded; people in the disability rights movement have tried to make the public aware of the negative impact of referring to the achievements of people with physical or intellectual disabilities with excessive hyperbole.
  • Use the word "special" with extreme care when talking about persons with intellectual disabilities. The term, if used excessively in references to Special Olympics athletes and activities, can become a cliché.  


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