Big Think Interview with Tim Shriver

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Tim Shriver: \r\nWell in the last 20 years there have been great changes for people with\r\nintellectual disabilities.  Many\r\ncountries have passed laws that opened schools to children with intellectual\r\ndisabilities.  It's hard to\r\nbelieve, but just a few generations ago, a few decades ago, many children with\r\ndisabilities were never allowed to go to school.  Schools would tell parents no, there is no place in this\r\nschool for your child.

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So schools have opened up. \r\nIn some places, employers have begun to see a person with an\r\nintellectual disability as someone who can contribute, someone who will be a\r\nloyal worker, someone who will be a reliable worker, someone who will help\r\ncreate a positive environment at work. \r\nSo employers have begun the long process of opening their doors of\r\nopportunity to people with intellectual disabilities.

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And healthcare institutions have begun to study the various forms\r\nof intellectual disability and begun to respond with new kinds of treatments,\r\nnew kinds of interventions, new kinds of therapies that not only help prevent\r\nthose forms of intellectual disability that are preventable, but also, and maybe\r\nmore importantly, add to the quality of life of those who have an intellectual\r\ndisability and want to contribute.

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So changes have been positive in most countries.  Do we still have work to do?  Alas.  Yes.  All the\r\npositive changes in employment, in healthcare, community living, education, are\r\nstill unfortunately isolated examples. \r\nMost children with intellectual disabilities never go to school.  More than 90 percent never have a\r\njob.  Almost all of them never have\r\nreal friends.  Very few still ever\r\nget to play on a sports team, ever get to join a community organization, ever\r\nget to stand up in front of a crowd and say, "Look what I've done.  Look how well I've done.  Give me a chance at a medal.  Give me a chance at a cup.  Give me a chance at success."  That experience is still tragically the\r\nrarest of experiences in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities and\r\ntheir families.

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Our job is to change that.

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Tim Shriver: \r\nWell the biggest barrier facing people with intellectual disabilities in\r\nalmost every country in the world is fear and misunderstanding, negative\r\nattitudes.  People still believe\r\nthat a child with an intellectual disability is somehow lesser.  So they say to parents, "Oh, I'm\r\nsorry you have such a child." \r\nThey say to the child, either in words or non-verbally, "I'm so\r\nsorry that you're having to live such a tragic life."  It couldn't be in many respects a\r\nfurther thing from the truth, but that bias translates into a lack of\r\nhealthcare because people think why bother giving healthcare to these children.

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It translates into a lack of special educators because people\r\nthink why bother with special education, we have to train and educate other\r\nkids.  It translates into a lack of\r\nemployment opportunities because people think why bother hiring this person,\r\nthey're never contribute anything. \r\n

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The biggest barrier is the negative attitude.  The result of negative attitudes, our\r\nwhole systems, whole social structures that too frequently say to a child with\r\nintellectual disability, "You are not welcome."  Our job is to reverse those negative\r\nattitudes and create communities that say, "You are welcome.  Show me what you can do.  You can contribute to the life of this\r\ncommunity, to the life of this country."

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Topic: \r\nArticle 23 of the CRC.

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Tim Shriver: \r\nWell I think the CRC [Convention on the Rights of the Child] is\r\nsufficient as far as it goes.  It's\r\na piece of paper.  It's a\r\ndocument.  It's a government\r\ndocument.  The reason question is\r\nnot is the wording right, the real question is the implementation right.  Where are the people?  Where are the armies of citizens who\r\nwill take the challenge of the CRC and make it come to life.  The real urgency of now is not to have\r\nsignatures on the bottom of the page, but to have people in communities who are\r\ndoing the work of overturning the attitudes and ensuring that the rights of the\r\nchild with an intellectual disability are protected.

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Where are the teachers who will understand that the CRC is an\r\ninvitation to them to open their classrooms.  Where are the principles and the educators who will see in\r\nthe CRC a challenge to them to make sure their school has special educators and\r\nother resources.  Where are the\r\nmayors and the chiefs and the local officials who will say the CRC is a\r\nchallenge to my community to become an icon of acceptance, to become the place\r\nwhere people want to visit to see what it means to be inclusive.  This army -- where are the\r\nparents?  The young people?  The religious leaders?  The civic leaders, who themselves\r\nthrough every little fiber of the community can begin to weave in that there is\r\na place for the person with special needs.  In my church, in my synagogue, in my temple, in my school,\r\nin my institution, in my place of work, in my work, on my playground, in my\r\npark.

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When that happens, the CRC [Convention on the Rights of the\r\nChild] will no longer be on paper, it will have come to life.  That will be the measure of its success\r\nand the moment of celebration. 

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Question: \r\nAnd how does sports contribute to the achievement of rights for children\r\nwith disabilities?

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Tim Shriver: \r\nWell it's no secret that children love to play.  Play is the environment where the\r\nimagination is first tested and allowed to exercise itself.  Play is the environment where\r\nrelationships are formed in young children.  Mothers and children play, make believe, create the world in\r\nwhich they grow up and learn, create safety, creates a sense of understanding,\r\nallows emotions to be understood and made safe for a child.

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From the earliest of ages, it doesn't change much as children\r\ngrow. The games change: hide-and-seek yields to football and football may yield\r\nto swimming, but they're the same lessons, the same questions, the same\r\nexuberance, the same desire to create a world where you can express yourself,\r\nwhere you can feel positive and powerful, where you can have a sense of\r\nrelationships that allow you to sore. \r\nThat's what sports is for most children, but sadly not for children with\r\nintellectual disabilities for too many generations.  When it came time for the child with special needs to say,\r\n"I'm ready to play.  I want to\r\ntest my skills, my body, my strength. \r\nI want a chance to win.  I\r\nwant to be involved in all the fun and excitement and exuberance of sports."  Too frequency people said, "No,\r\nI'm sorry.  Not for you.  You don't belong.  You don't have the gifts.  You can't contribute."

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Sports, in our world, in the world of Special Olympics, is all\r\nabout saying, "Yes.  Oh, yes\r\nyou do.  Come into this world, we\r\nwill give you your chance to shine. \r\nWe will tell the community around what you can do.  We will show your country that your\r\ntime is now, your joy, your imagination, your vision belongs in this country,\r\ntoo."

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