A new poll from Shriver Media and Special Olympics International shows that millennials — particularly millennial women — are leading the way on acceptance and inclusion for Americans with intellectual disabilities.
Among the study's key findings:
In light of the findings, SheKnows spoke to millennial woman, Special Olympics volunteer and daughter of Maria Shriver, Christina Schwarzenegger, about the upcoming World Games and how she's working to bring young people to the cause:
SheKnows: This weekend, the Special Olympics World Games, started by your grandmother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is coming to Los Angeles. It is the biggest event the city has hosted since the 1984 Olympic Games, and the world will watch as 6,500 athletes from 165 cities compete. What does this mean to you?
Christina Schwarzenegger: I was incredibly excited about the fact that the Special Olympic World Games are taking place in my hometown of Los Angeles this year. Since I have been involved with the organization my whole life, I was thrilled to be able to help out with the Games. My goal was to devise ways we could reach millennials and encourage them to get involved and have a continued social impact.
My grandmother was one of the most influential individuals in my life, and I am honored to play my own unique role. She was a force to be reckoned with, and I try to carry on her values and determination to include people with intellectual disabilities.
I grew up participating in Special Olympics events and Camp Shriver, the backyard summer camp that ultimately started a global movement. Our family is very tight-knit, and with that I think comes very strong values and lessons that are passed down from one generation to the next. I was raised with the belief that mentally disabled individuals are highly capable, able to do anything they want and that it is our job as a society to be inclusive, encouraging, compassionate and supportive. It has been a humbling experience to be able to take those values and use them in helping out with the Special Olympics World Games today.
SK: How did you use your own unique voice to help the Special Olympics World Games this year and carry on your grandmother’s legacy?
CS: My mother, Maria Shriver, actually had the initial vision to use social strategies for Special Olympics to not only engage people during the games but also encourage a thoughtful discussion long after the games are done. There is a lot of emphasis placed on millennials, and for a good reason. My grandmother’s generation built the original framework of the Games, and they worked hard to make that dream a reality. My mother and her brothers, including my uncle Timothy Shriver, who is the CEO of the Special Olympics, grew the movement and made it a huge global organization. Now it is up to my generation to keep the Games and its important message relevant for the next generation.
I have spent the summer working with the various teams involved in planning and came up with the name of the social action campaign launching this week: Let’s Change the Game. The challenge encourages inclusive and positive attitudes for all age groups toward people with intellectual disabilities.
I strongly believe that it is time communities come together to listen and teach one another. Once one person explains the importance of acceptance to you, you can’t help but spread the word. My grandmother was an action-oriented person who believed in getting things done rather than just talking about them. She taught me that one person can make a difference. She also taught me that by inspiring others, we can magnify that change and reshape our society.
SK: The new Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight into Intellectual Disabilities in the 21st Century reveals that millennials, ages 18-34, have more progressive attitudes toward people with intellectual disabilities and are more likely to engage with that community. Millennial women are actually the biggest game changers. What does that mean to you?
CS: As a millennial woman, I am especially pleased to see that my generation is pushing the older generation to have a more inclusive attitude toward people with intellectual disabilities. Unfortunately there are still many people in the country who are fearful and misinformed, even though they may have never met someone with an intellectual disability. It is one of the great challenges of our generation to overcome this ignorance and form a more just and inclusive society.
One of the most basic and critical ways that anyone can make a difference in the struggle to build a more inclusive society is to stop using the R-word. A few years ago, my cousin Tim Shriver started a campaign to "END the R-Word." It encourages people to understand the effect using that word has on people with intellectual disabilities. It is not only offensive to them, but to their family and friends as well. Anytime I hear someone say it, I immediately call them out on it! My friends have become sensitized to what a damaging word it is, and they’ve stopped using it. Now I have friends telling me they keep catching other people saying it and telling them to stop using it. This is how positivity and acceptance can catch fire. Our generation is exceptionally open, smart and progressive, and we can have a powerful impact on the attitudes of each other and older generations. We have our own set of principles and skills, and I have been honored to carry the torch of the Special Olympics that was ignited by my fierce grandmother. One simple idea can go a long way.
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