Governments in the Caribbean are being urged to partner with the Special Olympics of their respective countries for a united effort to assist individuals in the region with intellectual disabilities.

The call was made at a forum on Wednesday that involved administrators of Special Olympics Caribbean and Sports Ministers of several countries within the Caribbean.

Executive Director of Special Olympics Caribbean, Lorna Bell, said with the support of governments, the Caribbean can be an example to the world, on a united approach to achieving success in the Special Olympics community.

Bell stated that limited success has been achieved in some regional countries through governments’ partnerships.

These include a new Special Olympics programme in Antigua and Barbuda, the setting up a board to reactivate Guadeloupe, and Special Olympics Trinidad and Tobago getting a fully furnished office.

She said that the partnership has worked in Jamaica, where an agreement has been signed since 2005.

“We are asking the ministers of sports to have governments partner with the local programme,” said Bell. “It’s because of the partnership that Special Olympics Jamaica signed with the Government of Jamaica, that they can have 14 programmes, serving some 4,000 persons with intellectual disabilities.

“Ministers, Special Olympics is asking you to work with us, by supporting the athletes with intellectual disabilities, so that everyone will be given a chance and no one will be left behind. This movement is more than sports, it’s all about changing lives.”

Brian Lewis, president of the Caribbean Olympic Committee who also heads the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee,  argued that the Caribbean community has failed individuals with intellectual disabilities.

“It is very important, ministers, that we focus on the importance of collaboration, cooperation, and integration. It is very easy to pay lip service to the sustainable development goals on everything that countries sign over time,” Lewis said.

“Governments come, government change and the truth be told, it’s not everyone who has the same passion, commitment, and feelings for the challenge they face by, in this case, those with intellectual disabilities,” Lewis further added.

Jamaica’s Minister of Sports, Olivia Grange, explained to colleague sports ministers the need for governments to play an active role in helping individuals in the region with intellectual disabilities, through Special Olympics Caribbean.

 “Sports can effectively provide the platform, provide that vehicle, provide the voice and the opportunities for persons with intellectual challenges to contribute to national development,” Grange said.  “We acknowledge that many persons who are intellectually challenged have no visible signs at times and they are placed at greater risk.

“The importance of messaging is therefore key, as sports is a platform that highlights and celebrates diversity and promotes sport for all. Sports provide the platform for social and economic mobility for individuals and families.” 

Barbados’ Minister of Youth, Sports and Community Empowerment, Dwight Sutherland, said that individuals with intellectual disabilities have been contributing to the development of the region in several areas.

Kester Edwards, from Trinidad and Tobago, outlined how he has been a key part of the Special Olympics movement worldwide, despite being diagnosed with intellectual disabilities at six years old. He said he was in a bike accident that placed him in a coma for three weeks.

Edwards started as an athlete but has since served several senior roles including health leader, sport developer, and global advocate.