A special responsibility
Ten years on and the images still resonate. The spectacular Special Olympics opening ceremony in Croke Park and the footage of athletes competing against incredible odds filled us with immense pride and emotion. At the time, we were a country getting rich quick with more than enough money to put on a big show. But we weren’t sure if we had the heart to pull it all off.
We shouldn’t have worried. Dozens of host towns and villages opened their doors to visiting athletes from around the world, while a massive 35,000 volunteers mobilised to lend a helping hand. We were becoming a wealthy country, but our citizens also wanted a society that was compassionate and caring.
Many hoped the lighting of the flame that night ten years ago would be the spark that ushered in a new era of support for people with disabilities. Much has changed over the past decade. We’re nowhere near as rich as we thought we were, although the Government insists it is still committed to protecting the most vulnerable and improving educational supports for the disabled.
Despite this uplifting rhetoric, there are clear signs we are slipping backwards. Last k we learned of the latest cuts for people with disabilities: a reduction in allocations for schoolchildren’s special needs assistants. It amounts to a 25 per cent reduction over a three-year period. This cost-cutting is likely to end up hindering young children from reaching their potential or flourishing in a mainstream school setting. This is a direct affront to the values of the Special Olympics. It also undermines the Government’s pledge to improve educational supports for people with learning difficulties.
The Special Olympics of 2003 showed us that people with disabilities were not victims or objects of pity. They were competitors who taught us a lesson about courage, sacrifice and how to succeed if given a chance. People with learning difficulties deserve every possible opportunity to succeed in life. We should not make them pay for our economic problems.