Play Unified inspires schools to tackle intolerance

Special Olympics GB campaign boosts awareness of learning disabilities following series of youth summits

Play Unified, a Special Olympics GB campaign which aims to break down barriers for young people with intellectual (learning) disabilities, has quickly made its mark in schools across the UK – both on and off the sports field. 

Following a series of youth summits across the country, nine in 10 attendees said that they had a more favourable view of people with intellectual disabilities.

Of those surveyed, four in five said that the summits left them feeling better about themselves in general. Over two thirds felt more upbeat about the future, with 83 per cent having increased confidence to go back to school and lead a Play Unified project.

However, the real success is that an overwhelming majority (87 per cent) of attendees, both with and without intellectual disabilities, said that they felt more positive about their abilities following the Play Unified summits.

The campaign, delivered in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust, is part of a global movement to promote tolerance and improve attitudes towards those with intellectual disabilities, through sport. 

The immediate impact of the summits was palpable, with Karen Erikson, Director of PE at Arbour Vale School in Slough concluding: “Play Unified is developing inclusion through sport, enabling young people from different schools, mainstream and special, or from within the same school, to make new friends, develop skills and play together in a competitive manner. It is the way forward to ensure every young person has the opportunity to take part in sport if they want to.”

Karen Wallin, CEO of Special Olympics GB, commented: “The response to the Play Unified summits has been phenomenal. This campaign is having a real impact on young people in the UK, as these statistics show. 

“There is still a long way to go to end intolerance against young people with intellectual disabilities. However, the pupils and Young Ambassadors of Play Unified are in an excellent position to instigate change in their schools and communities – and I am confident that they will succeed in doing so!”

Play Unified has also created a motivational video to accompany the campaign in the UK, starring young people from across the country alongside successful sports stars. It highlights the barriers faced by young people with intellectual disabilities – and the power of sport to change that. Since its premiere in early July, the video has been viewed more than 1,000 times, and survey results show its impact. 

After watching, three quarters of viewers surveyed said that they wanted to do something to make society fairer for people with intellectual disabilities. Encouragingly, 7 in 10 people also said the video made them feel differently about what people with intellectual disabilities can achieve. 

Victoria Wells, Programme Lead for Play Unified at the Youth Sport Trust, adds: “At the heart of Play Unified is the aim to inspire and empower young people with and without intellectual disabilities to become leaders in their schools, creating positive change and developing more opportunities for young people to take part in sport. 

“Ultimately, we want to create the ‘Unified Generation’ where the barriers faced by people with intellectual disabilities are eliminated. To see that the video has been so well received, and is having an immediate impact in changing attitudes, is deeply encouraging. Change in schools across the UK is coming, and we’re proud to see Play Unified’s Young Ambassadors leading that change.”

Play Unified is active in 175 schools across England and Scotland, with another 20 Welsh schools set to join in the new academic year. 

W: www.specialolympicsgb.org.uk/play-unified

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