Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who started the Special Olympics and coined the shorthand for every joke about the mentally handicapped in America, died earlier this morning. She was 88.
Her faith in the athletes of Special Olympics was unfailing, even from the very start. When she was young and Special Olympics was still just an idea, few people particularly cared or knew about people with intellectual disabilities. Fewer still shared or understood her dream to awaken the spirit and denied potential of this forgotten population. And yet, though others could not see, she still believed, conceiving Special Olympics in her heart before she could unveil it on the field of play. via.
Eunice’s love and desire to acknowledge the disabled as functional members of society has helped shape our views about them, but perhaps not in the best way. In a time where seemingly everyone is deemed “special,” where our society becomes more and more integrated along the lines of gender, race, and even ability, Shriver’s vision of an isolated environment for these people leading difficult lives might have contradicted her end goal–acceptance. But maybe this was the first step. A step toward embracing all retards. Um, handicapped.