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Special Olympics Changes People's Perceptions Of Mental Retardation

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RALEIGH — In some countries, people with mental retardation are punished for their disabilities. Here in the United States, people with disabilities are often shunned or suffer discrimination. TheSpecial Olympics World Gamesis helping to change that, by changing people's perceptions, one at a time.

It is impossible to watch one of the athletes race around the track and not have a new appreciation for what they can do. Before Special Olympics, many people in the Triangle had never had any interaction with people with disabilities. Now they have, and their perceptions have changed.

Students at theTammy Lynn Centerin Raleigh will probably never compete in the World Games. They will, however, reap the benefits of the games: people in the Triangle have a greater understanding of disabilities.

"I think the community is going to be more comfortable, more knowledgeable and more eager to participate in activities which support individuals with disabilities," says Mary Freeman, the center's executive director.

Demorris Hukins had never been around athletes likes those she met when she volunteered. Now, they have a special place in her heart.

"I've loved every minute of it," Hukins says. "I love to hug them and they love to hug me too. I've gotten so much from it. I think I've gotten more out of it than they have."

Volunteer Jay Montavon sees people with mental retardation differently as well. "They just want to be like everybody else and it just gives you an awareness that they really are, they really can be," Montavon says.

Spectators also have a new awareness. "I think people have preconceived notions that they can't do certain things," says Melissa Choi. "But they come out here and show that they can do stuff better than some of the rest of us can."

The attitude these athletes have about competing is really refreshing. They truly are happy just to participate, even if they come in last place.

Whether they are medal winners or students at the Tammy Lynn Center, the Triangle is a good place to be.


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