As the UAE welcomes 7000 athletes from 190 countries from around the world will it change attitudes forever towards people with special needs in the Gulf State?
It’s one big celebration of cultures and the phrases coined for the the Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics is ‘Meet the Determined’ as in get behind the athletes who will do whatever it takes to do their best. I have been in the UAE all week and what I have taken from it is, attitudes are changing, slowly, ‘no longer are people with special needs shut away,’ as the Special Olympics Chief Executive Worldwide Mary Davis and the Chairman Tim Shriver in Henry McKean's ‘Medals in the Desert’ radio documentary said (which is now available as a podcast.)
It all started in 1968, in Chicago. A time when people with intellectual disabilities were systematically erased from society. The idea of including them in a sporting event, in public, where they could challenge themselves and one another, was seen by some as strange, even a little disturbing. But to those who took part, it was joyful and liberating. It was a true game changer and it's a game changer in the Middle East. Henry McKean reports from the desert.