Here are insights project leader Naya Markomichali shares in pursuit for love and support for people with intellectual disabilities.
Valentine’s Day is often associated with romantic gestures, but it often prompts questions about society’s perceptions of ideal romantic relationships. In addition, mainstream love stories seldom depict characters with disabilities. This lack of representation can perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions and often creates a stigma in showcasing love and support for people with intellectual disabilities.
Expressing Love and Support for People with Intellectual Disabilities?
In contemporary times, while there has been a positive shift in societal attitudes towards individuals with intellectual disabilities, specific care approaches persist in imposing limitations under the guise of “safeguarding” and “protecting vulnerable people.” It is important to recognize that the primary purpose of policies is to offer guidance and protection, not to enforce unnecessary restrictions. By emphasizing this distinction, we can encourage a more inclusive and supportive environment that upholds the rights and autonomy of individuals with intellectual disabilities, fostering a culture of respect and understanding.
Challenging persistent stereotypes, initiatives such as the “Myself, My Body” project led by the Inspire Foundation for Inclusion in Malta, aims to dispel misconceptions and affirm the right of individuals with disabilities to experience love.
The following are some insights that project leader Naya Markomichali shares in pursuit of normalizing love and support for people with intellectual disabilities:
Individuals with intellectual disabilities may need help with meeting other people.
In her interview with the Independent, Markomichali emphasizes the importance of addressing the social aspirations of individuals with intellectual disabilities. She advocates for creating environments beyond the sports arena, aiming to help people establish friendships and more profound relationships, including the potential for romantic connections if they so desire.
Through the platform of sports, Special Olympics Pilipinas becomes more than just a program; it transforms into a community that recognizes and supports the social well-being of its participants. By organizing social activities, Markomichali ensures that individuals with intellectual disabilities can experience the joy of genuine connections, breaking down barriers, and fostering inclusivity. These initiatives contribute significantly to the holistic development and enhanced quality of life for those involved in Special Olympics Programs.
Building relationships is a human right
Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities underscores the need to eliminate relationship discrimination. Emphasizing equal rights in marriage, family, and parenthood. “We should not deny anyone the right to a relationship, but instead facilitate a solid ground for them to decide if that is something they wish to pursue,” Markomichali says.
It is essential to empower individuals with intellectual disabilities through education and sports
Empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities involves creating inclusive educational environments and promoting sports participation.
In education, this means providing tailored support, fostering a positive learning environment, and emphasizing individual strengths. While sports play a vital role by promoting physical well-being, social inclusion, and skill development.
By combining education and sports, we can break down barriers, challenge stereotypes, and create opportunities for everyone to thrive, regardless of intellectual abilities.
Love and support for people with intellectual disabilities can combat loneliness.
Insights from participants reveal that relationships are vital in dealing with loneliness that people with disabilities may be experiencing. One participant shared, “Sometimes I get lonely, if I’ve got somebody I can trust, it will make me happier.”
Be more open to extending support and companionship; everyone deserves love and support and people with intellectual disabilities are not an exception. Naya Markomichali states that “People with disabilities have the right to fall in love and have intimate relationships. We have an obligation to support them.” and we couldn’t agree more.
Other things you can practice to show your love and support
Practice Inclusive Language
Within SOP’s sports programs, the emphasis on using inclusive language is a cornerstone in creating an environment that respects the dignity and diversity of all participants. By adopting inclusive language, the programs strive to eliminate stereotypes and foster an atmosphere where everyone feels acknowledged and valued regardless of their intellectual abilities.
For example, instead of referring to them as “intellectually disabled people”, which focuses on the disability, the correct inclusive language is “persons with an intellectual disabilities.” Focus on the person, not the disability.
Markomichali’s advocacy for age-appropriate and inclusive language aligns seamlessly with this approach, reinforcing that the power of words can shape an inclusive community where everyone’s voice is heard and respected.
Respect their individual differences
Respecting individual differences is a guiding principle in SOP’s sports programs, acknowledging that each participant brings unique abilities, challenges, and experiences.
Markomichali’s efforts to organize social activities resonate with this principle, recognizing the diverse desires and needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities for meaningful relationships.
In the context of sports, celebrating individual differences is not only about accommodating various skill levels but also about creating an inclusive space that appreciates each participant’s varied backgrounds, preferences, and strengths. This commitment to respect individual differences enhances the sense of belonging and acceptance within the SOP community, fostering an environment where everyone can thrive on their terms.
Do your best to be patient and understanding
Individuals with intellectual disabilities may require more time to process information or complete tasks. They may also exhibilit a lack of attention or neediness, so be patient and allow them the time or attention they need. Regardless of a person’s abilities, these things are essential when building relationships with others.
Encourage their independence
Expressing love for individuals with intellectual disabilities involves empowering them by encouraging self-reliance. Guide and assist when necessary, but it’s equally important to refrain from doing tasks for them that they can manage independently. This approach not only cultivates their confidence and self-esteem but also reinforces a sense of capability and agency, contributing to a more inclusive and supportive relationship.
Include them in social activities
Encourage inclusivity by extending invitations to individuals with intellectual disabilities for various social events and gatherings. Who knows, you might meet someone who can be a friend for life! Additionally, create an inclusive environment by making social spaces accessible and inviting to ensure that everyone feels welcome and comfortable.
Educate yourself and others
Invest time in expanding your understanding of intellectual disabilities, it may seem like a daunting task but understanding their diverse causes and distinctive challenges will help create a more positive and welcome environment.
Moreover, this knowledge equips you to be a catalyst for change. Do your best to extend this enlightenment to others, advocating for inclusivity and fostering a community characterized by empathy and understanding. By actively sharing insights and promoting awareness, you contribute to breaking down stereotypes and creating an environment where everyone, regardless of ability, feels acknowledged and valued.
Be an advocate for inclusion
Actively advocate for inclusivity by supporting policies and practices that ensure equal opportunities for them. Especially in educational institutions, workplaces, and community organizations, where opportunities for them are lacking.
Work towards dismantling barriers that hinder access for them, foster an environment where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can thrive and contribute meaningfully.
Always celebrate achievements
Who doesn’t like getting acknowledged for their accomplishments? Foster a positive environment by highlighting strengths and abilities, shifting the focus from limitations to capabilities. This approach promotes a sense of accomplishment and contributes to building their self-esteem, reinforcing their value and potential within the community.
Support their families
Extend your support beyond individuals with intellectual disabilities to include their families. Recognize the importance of a strong support system for these families, acknowledging the unique challenges they may face.
If you can, offer assistance and resources to ensure that both individuals and their families feel supported and included in the community.
Special Olympics Pilipinas is dedicated to creating a network of support that contributes to the overall well-being and resilience of not just the athletes but their families as well.
Help Them Build Their Own Experiences
Lastly, as we approach Valentine’s Day, let us celebrate love in all its forms. Remember that relationships are trivial things and connections that “add value to people’s lives.” Finally, we need to rethink how we view love, romance, and relationships to answer the call for better inclusivity for people with disabilities.
If you are interested in this advocacy and helping build a brighter future for individuals with special needs, learn more about Special Olympics Pilipinas and discover how our work benefits athletes with intellectual disabilities in the Philippines.
Make a statement and show your support for people with intellectual disabilities by wearing these shirts. All proceeds will go to funding and sustaining our programs for our athletes with intellectual disabilities. Ready to wear your support? Dive into the collection here.
You can also gift Special Olympics Pilipinas something extraordinary by donating your Globe Reward points on the Globe One App! Your points will help us create and maintain programs that help people with intellectual disabilities overcome social stigma through sports.
Donate by following these steps:
1. Download the GlobeOne app and log in
2. Tap on Rewards points
3. Search for Pilipinas Special Olympics
4. Select the denomination of points you want to donate
5. Confirm your donation
The holiday is more fruitful with the gift of giving!