Reporting & Language Guidelines
- Special Olympics Northern California (SONC) provides year-round sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities or closely related developmental disabilities.
- These athletes, who may or may not have a physical disability, represent programs from more than 172 countries from all the major continents.
- Special Olympics operates on funds raised at the international, national, state, and local levels from corporations, individuals, special events, and grants.
- Special Olympics incorporates sports, competition, and socialization. Our program benefits include fitness coordination and cardiovascular improvements while instilling confidence, discipline, self-esteem, and fun.
- Special Olympics has made training the priority. It has established strict guidelines to ensure that every athlete receives quality training before competing. To improve training quality, Special Olympics instituted a program of coaches training curriculum and certification in 1981.
- Every athlete who competes in Special Olympics events will compete against athletes of similar ability. According to previous times or scores, athletes are placed in competition divisions, age, and, where appropriate, gender.
- Special Olympics serves the needs of athletes of all ability levels, including those with more severe mental retardation or closely related disabilities in addition to mental retardation; and high-functioning athletes who may be able to move into mainstream sports or participate in Unified Sports.®
- Special Olympics has organizations in place from the local level right up to the international level. Every state (Chapter) and the National Special Olympics program has local staff and a board of directors responsible for local programs.
- Special Olympics Inc. is officially recognized and endorsed by the International Olympic Committee and is the first organization other than a National Olympic Committee to be recognized.
Photography Release Statement
No athlete may compete in any Special Olympics Northern California event without signing a parent/guardian Release Statement on file with Special Olympics Northern California. The Statement grants permission for Special Olympics Northern California and the media to use the athlete’s name, likeness, voice, and words in television, radio, films, newspapers, magazines, and other media to promote and publicize Special Olympics Northern California, educating the public about Special Olympics and raising funds for Special Olympics.
Words Matter. Words can open doors to cultivate the understanding and respect that enable people with disabilities to lead fuller, more independent lives. Words can also create barriers or stereotypes that are demeaning to people with disabilities and rob them of their individuality. Experts have developed the following language guidelines for anyone writing or speaking about people with intellectual disabilities to ensure that all people are portrayed with respect and dignity.
Special Olympics focuses on people, their gifts, and their accomplishments. We dispel negative attitudes and stereotypes by promoting inclusion. As language has evolved, Special Olympics has updated its official terminology to use standard terminology that is more acceptable to our athletes. We use “people-first language.” For example: refer to people with intellectual disabilities rather than “intellectually disabled people.”
- Refer to participants in Special Olympics as “Special Olympics athletes” rather than “Special Olympians” or “Special Olympic athletes.”
- Refer to individuals, persons, or people with intellectual disabilities, rather than “intellectually disabled people” or “the intellectually disabled.”
- A person has an “intellectual disability,” rather than is “suffering from,” is “afflicted with,” or is “a victim of” mental retardation/intellectual disabilities.
- Distinguish between adults and children with intellectual disabilities. Use adults or children, or older or younger athletes.
- A person “uses” a wheelchair rather than is “confined” or “restricted to” a wheelchair.
- “Down syndrome” has replaced “Down’s Syndrome” and “mongoloid.”
- Refer to participants in Special Olympics as athletes. In no case should the word athletes appear in quotation marks.
- In formal documents, refer to persons with a disability in the same style as persons without a disability: full name on first reference and last name on subsequent references. Do not refer to an individual with intellectual disabilities as “Bill” rather than the journalistically correct “Bill Smith” or “Smith.”
- A person has a “physical disability” rather than “crippled.”
- Use the words “Special Olympics” when referring to the worldwide Special Olympics movement.
Terminology to Avoid:
- Do not use the label “kids” when referring to Special Olympics athletes. Adult athletes are an integral part of the movement.
- Do not use the word “the” before “Special Olympics” unless describing a specific Special Olympics event or official.
- Do not use the adjective “unfortunate” when talking about persons with an intellectual disability. Disabling conditions do not have to be life-defining in a negative way.
- Do not sensationalize the accomplishments of persons with disabilities.
While these accomplishments should be recognized and applauded, please refrain from referring to the achievements of people with physical or intellectual disabilities with excessive hyperbole.
- Use the word “special” with extreme care when talking about persons with intellectual disabilities. The term is used excessively in references to Special Olympics athletes and activities.