What the world’s biggest corporations can learn from Special Olympics

By Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics and Anne Finucane, Vice Chairman, Bank of America, Special Olympics Board Member

This article was originally published by WP Brand Studio - Washington Post's in-house creative agency – as part of a partnership with Bank of America.

Fifty years ago in Chicago, a thousand people gathered to compete in track and field, hockey and swimming events. This would hardly seem out of the ordinary for Soldier Field, one of the best-known sports venues in the country, except for the fact that all of athletes were people with intellectual disabilities — an unprecedented sight for the day.

And with this, Special Olympics was born.

In 1968, newspaper headlines described these athletes with amazement, and used words that would make any modern reader cringe. In 2018, we reconvene in Chicago to commemorate our 50th anniversary and the progress that the Special Olympics movement has helped to create, while underscoring our commitment and urgent need for an even more inclusive future. We are embarking on an “Inclusion Revolution,” led by our athletes, to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities in every aspect of their lives — seeking even greater opportunities on the field, and importantly in employment, education and healthcare.

Special Olympics connects with people on a powerful level. Its work touches the lives of athletes, their families and the broader community of people with intellectual disabilities. As a movement, it lives out the value of inclusion and demonstrates that when the world chooses to include, everyone benefits in a positive way.

The empowering stories of what people can achieve when given the opportunity and support is what draws some of the world’s largest and most influential companies to be part of the Special Olympics movement.

For more than 30 years, Bank of America has partnered with Special Olympics, making it one of the organization’s longest-tenured sponsors. And what started as a philanthropy and volunteerism activity for the company has expanded to include a focus on workforce inclusion.

Today, 70 percent of Americans with disabilities seek employment, but only about one-third find it, according to a recent survey. To put that in context – just 36 percent of working-aged people with disabilities have jobs, compared to 78 percent employment among individuals without disabilities.

At Bank of America, workforce inclusion holds a special place in the hearts and minds of employees – while also providing a valuable return for the company. We’re incredibly proud to employ more than 300 individuals with intellectual disabilities in our Support Services team. These teammates provide work that’s core to our business operations – including warehousing, fulfillment and print services. Support Services gives individuals facing barriers to employment the opportunity to achieve independence, financial stability and career growth, while creating a positive impact to the bottom line.

Almost 100 of these employees participate in Special Olympics as athletes, including Erin Bailey who took home the bronze in tennis and Tyler Kennedy who won two golds in swimming at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle. Erin and Tyler are great examples of the potential of people with intellectual disabilities to succeed both on the field and in the workplace.

Other companies have also started to understand that having employees with a multitude of experiences and abilities makes their business stronger. Americans with disabilities have shown year-over-year gains in the job market for more than 20 months, according to a recent analysis released in January by the Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability. And nearly 350,000 more people with disabilities entered the workforce in 2016 alone. This is good progress, but it’s not enough. The truth is: people with intellectual disabilities make great employees at every level of businesses and organizations.

All businesses can learn and be inspired by Special Olympics. We all have a role to play – every individual has something to contribute to a company, and every company should leverage their networks, assets and capital to include more people in the economy.

As we embark on the “Inclusion Revolution,” we encourage all companies to hire more people with intellectual disabilities. By taking the Inclusion Pledge, consumers and businesses alike can vow their commitment to help create a fully inclusive world and increase employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Visit JointheRevolution.org.

Special Olympics is about sports — and a whole range of programs designed to empower people with ID with everything they need to thrive. It serves to teach people that everyone can contribute – to a team, to a company, to society. As individuals, we can all take small steps to make progress. As leaders, we have the ability to leverage our networks, assets and capital to create more inclusive companies and more inclusive economy – for all.

Timothy Shriver is Chairman of Special Olympics International Board of Directors.

Anne Finucane is Vice Chairman at Bank of America and a member of the company’s executive management team. She is also a member of Special Olympics’ volunteer Board of Directors.


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