Champions and Global Week of Inclusion open hearts and minds

Special Olympics BC - Williams Lake advocating inclusion
Special Olympics BC – Williams Lake members helping lead the way to inclusion!

In the annual Special Olympics Global Week of Inclusion from July 20 to 26, many supporters stepped forward to show how they #ChooseToInclude. It was so inspiring to see the example set by Special Olympics BC athletes, coaches, volunteers, and supporters including Chris Higgins and the Vancouver Canucks, members of provincial and federal parliament, Law Enforcement Torch Run champions, Youth Engagement Project advocates, Sobeys staff, the UNBC Timberwolves, and provincial sport organizations. 

It was a joy to celebrate the abilities of Special Olympics athletes, and the champions of inclusion who create respect for individuals with intellectual disabilities. 

Watch SOBC Youth Engagement Project advocate Bremiella de Guzman spread the word about Special Olympics and inclusion on Breakfast Television

But the work is far from done. Too many Special Olympics athletes knew the pain of isolation and exclusion long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Canadians with intellectual disabilities are still too often left out – on playgrounds, from the workforce, from conversations. Together, we have the power to change the world.

Ongoing opportunities include:

One of B.C.’s great Champions of Inclusion is Megan Owens – a recent high school graduate, an SOBC – Chilliwack coach and Local Committee member, and a passionate advocate for inclusion with the Spread the Word>>Inclusion campaign and the SOBC Youth Engagement Project. Owens engaged people from all over Chilliwack to create an inspiring video during the Global Week of Inclusion, and she initiated active social media discussions throughout the week. We are so inspired by Owens, and she graciously shared the below remarks! 

Advocate Megan Owens on the importance of inclusion

B.C. supporters of the Special Olympics Global Week of Inclusion
Some of our province's supporters of the Special Olympics Global Week of Inclusion

Inclusion is something that I advocate for because I believe in a world where everyone is treated equally and is given equal opportunities at achieving success. 

Every time someone asks me what inclusion means to me, I think of this quote: “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance” -Unknown. I think that Special Olympics resembles this quote perfectly because in my experience with Special Olympics dances you can’t go without dancing! The environment they create is inclusive, safe, fun, and makes me feel comfortable to show off my bad dance moves. 

I have been a volunteer with Special Olympics for four years. Throughout it I have gained connections and experiences with the athletes I coach. This is the reason I will always advocate for inclusion. Each and every one of the athletes welcomed me with smiles and hugs on my very first day, and they didn’t even know me! They are open-minded and unbiased individuals. They see the world in such a beautiful way. I want to spread their contagious feeling of inclusion and unconditional love to everyone! 

Advocating for inclusion hasn’t been easy. Yes, I’ve had the support of Special Olympics, my family, friends, and others – but I’ve had to persuade others to believe in what I believe. To me, inclusion is a basic human right and common sense, but to others it can see as a hurdle to jump over and end up being too much work. 

The other challenging part for me was gaining the confidence to express my opinions to others. Remembering that I was doing this to help create a more inclusive world for everyone is what kept me going and enabled me to conquer my fears of public speaking, voicing my opinion, and much more!

An important part of my journey has been advocating to youth. I believe that youth have the ability to change the world and could help me form the Inclusion Revolution in Chilliwack and across B.C. with me. My work with both Spread the Word>>Inclusion and Inclusion Revolution Sports has been youth-centered, and the feedback has been amazing! 

Often at our events, it’s not that the students have a lack of knowledge about inclusion – but rather inclusion is something that is not practiced enough, so is forgotten. It’s as simple as reminding them the easy ways to be inclusive: being kind, encouraging, inviting, cheering someone up, or sitting with someone who is lonely, etc. 

During the Inclusion Revolution Sports events, students and staff loved learning about inclusion in a sports environment, because it is something everyone can connect with. Lots of kids asked if we were coming back or if we could do it again! 

One of my most memorable parts of my projects was during my Spread the Word>>Inclusion campaign at Chilliwack Middle School. After my presentation, a boy rushed over and hugged me! I learned that he was a Special Olympics athlete in Chilliwack, and he wanted to tell me how thankful he was that I was there to talk about the elimination of the R-word, and how cool it was that I was talking about Special Olympics to the school! This meant the world to me to see the impact I was creating during my first project. 

Throughout my Spread the Word project, and the Inclusion Revolution Sports Project I completed with Rachel Simes, I have definitely seen my community come together and form growth mindsets towards the idea of inclusion.  More people, including over 1,500 youth in Chilliwack, now understand the importance of inclusion and the deeper meaning and practice behind it. 

During these last few months lots of people have been experiencing isolation, and it has been hard. For individuals with intellectual disabilities, this is not new – most have experienced isolation or exclusion for most of their lives. 

Because of this, for the Global Week of Inclusion this year I wanted to bring joy to my community by including them in the video and also raise awareness for inclusion so fewer individuals will face isolation due to their ability, race, gender, age, etc. My video gave viewers a broad idea of what inclusion is and what it means to different people from Chilliwack. I had a lot of positive comments after posting my video; it made people smile, feel inspired, and proud to be a Chilliwack resident.  

Inclusion is a wonderful thing, it is so simple yet can have such a huge impact!

Read more about the Special Olympics Global Week of Inclusion