This summer, some 6,500 athletes from around the globe came to Los Angeles to compete in the Special Olympics World Games.
Teens and adults with intellectual disabilities competed in 25 sports, including basketball, softball, tennis, triathlon, beach volleyball and sailing. The games were an inspiring display of determination, courage and joy.
As I learned more about the Special Olympics, I was struck by a parallel to pupil transportation. Through sports, the Special Olympics helps children and adults with intellectual disabilities develop their abilities. The organization also promotes a sense of inclusion for a group of people who often struggle for acceptance.
Similarly, the school bus industry helps children with disabilities develop their abilities by providing access to education. Special-needs students nationwide rely on the yellow bus as a safe, reliable and free form of transportation. Many would struggle to get to school every day if it weren’t for the school transportation system.
School bus drivers undergo specialized training to help them safely transport and effectively communicate with their passengers who have disabilities. And the special-needs buses themselves often carry specialized equipment and personnel — wheelchair lifts and tiedowns, oxygen tanks, nurses, EpiPens, ventilators and service animals, to name a few. In some cases, special-needs students are mainstreamed onto general school bus routes with their non-disabled peers.
All of these efforts foster inclusion by helping special-needs children take part in the free public education guaranteed to all children.
The school bus industry has also supported the Special Olympics directly in many ways. We’ve reported on numerous occasions about school bus operations, industry associations, school bus manufacturers and individual pupil transportation professionals who have held fundraisers, provided transportation or volunteered their time to benefit the Special Olympics and its athletes.
As one recent example, at the National School Transportation Association’s awards banquet in Minneapolis this summer, attendees made donations to the local chapter of the Special Olympics.
Clearly, the connections between the Special Olympics and the school bus industry run deep.
Here are a few more interesting facts about the Special Olympics and its World Games:
• About 6,500 athletes and 2,000 coaches from 165 countries participated in the 2015 World Games.
• Some 30,000 volunteers helped run the World Games.
• In general, the Special Olympics organization includes 4.5 million athletes, ages 8 and up, from more than 170 countries.
• Special Olympics also has a Young Athletes program for children ages 2 to 7.
If you didn’t catch the 2015 Special Olympics World Games on TV or in person, I encourage you to go to www.la2015.org and watch the “Rise Up” closing ceremonies film. You will be inspired, and you may even be moved to join many of your pupil transportation colleagues in supporting the Special Olympics.