Disability and competitive athletics

Question: The first Special Olympics event was held in Chicago in 1968. In what year did the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognize and endorse Special Olympics in a signed agreement?

A. 1970

B. 1976

C. 1982

D. 1988

Answer: D, 1988. It was not until 1988 that the IOC would finally recognize Special Olympics, although the United States Olympic Committee would recognize them 13 years earlier in 1975. Today, Special Olympics reaches far beyond the shores of the United States and has millions of international participants.


On a comfortably warm summer day in Chicago, Illinois, the game changed for people with disabilities. The date was July 20, 1968, and Eunice Kennedy Shriver looked on at Soldier Field as her dream of people with disabilities competing athletically and emerging victorious in front of a crowd of supporters was coming true before her eyes. That day marked the beginning of Special Olympics, a tradition that has only grown since and is now an important part of the identity of many people with disabilities.

35 year-old David Egan knows very well how much this part of a person’s identity can mean to them. Egan now finds himself speaking internationally and domestically in front of some of the world’s most influential people, his phone constantly ringing with people seeking his ability as a speaker. He has also worked at Booz Allen Hamilton in Virginia since 1998. “(Down syndrome) is not a barrier when I take the bus to work or when I earn my paycheck every two weeks,” Egan writes. “It may be a challenge, but I think of all the things that I CAN DO.”

Egan’s athletic story began when he was only 8 years old, a Special Olympics swimmer with dreams of competing at the highest levels. Today, he plays a multitude of sports including soccer, basketball, ice-skating, softball, and swimming.

David Egan’s story is emblematic of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision almost fifty years ago. Since then, the milestones have been many for Special Olympics. The organization was given permission to use the word “Olympics” in its name in 1971, at the time only the second to be allowed to do so in the United States. Covered nationwide on television, the first Special Olympics Winter Games would be held in Colorado in 1977. By 2006, Special Olympics served 2.5 million athletes in 165 countries worldwide. Most recently, the Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in 2013 in PyeongChang, Republic of Korea.

Special Olympics opened the door to athletes with disabilities to compete athletically on an international scale. In doing so, athletics have become an important part of the lives of millions of people with disabilities over the past decades. One organization that soon followed was to be called the National Beep Baseball Association, or the NBBA.

Beep Baseball is a sport that is designed to allow individuals who are blind to play baseball in a highly competitive environment. The game is played with a ball that beeps as it approaches the hitter, allowing her or him to locate the ball to hit it as it approaches them. The bases are large, padded cones that make a different noise as the base-runner approaches. The fielders must field the ball before the runner reaches base to record an out. Games are often high scoring and intense, and the athletes take pride in their ability to play at a high level.

The first beeping ball was invented in 1964, and competitive beep baseball began in earnest in Minnesota in 1975. The NBBA is now made up of teams from all over the country who play locally and nationally for the opportunity to participate in the yearly NBBA World Series in August. The Seattle Sluggers and the Spokane Lion Pride are Washington’s teams that compete against each other and many other teams from all over the United States.

This past summer, the Seattle Sluggers expanded the reach of the sport in a special event held on May 31, 2014. That day, the Sluggers battled the Seattle Police Department in a game of beep baseball in which the police officers wore blindfolds to level the playing field. As it turned out, however, the playing field was far from level when the Seattle Sluggers dominated their police counterparts from the first pitch.

The Sluggers’ game against the police department demonstrated the ability of the athletes. People with disabilities who compete in the NBBA, Special Olympics, and many other organizations committed to athletics are not simply skilled amongst their peers. These are individuals who have developed high level athletic and sensory skills, and who can have the ability to compete with others with or without disabilities. Several officers lauded the abilities of the beep baseball players. “It is incredibly difficult to hit a ball when you can’t see,” said Officer Carmen Best. “It gives us a chance to walk a day in someone else’s shoes and see what it’s like to actually rely on the other senses.”

For more information on the Seattle Sluggers or Beep Baseball, visit www.seattlesluggers.org or www.nbba.org. For more information on the Special Olympics, visit www.specialolympics.org. For more information about David Egan, visit his website at www.davideganadvocacy.com.


Discussion Questions

For which reasons do you like to play or watch sports?

What is beneficial about playing sports in general? For people with disabilities?

Would your interest or participation in sports change if you were a person with a disability? If so, how?

Special Olympics was not recognized until 1988 by the International Olympic Committee. Why do you think it took so long for this to happen?



Primary Sources

Egan, David. “My Story.” National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities. Web.

“History of Special Olympics.” Special Olympics.Web.

“History of Beep Baseball and the NBBA.”  National Beep Baseball Association Hall of Fame. Web.

Secondary Sources

Fox, Michael. “SeattleInsider: Seattle’s blind take on cops in “beep baseball” game.” KiroTV.com. KiroTV, 4 June 2014. Web.