Disability, Inclusion, and Sports in the US territories: Special Olympics in American Samoa, Guam, and Puerto Rico


The Special Olympics is a program with more than one million participants and 500,000 volunteers. The Special Olympics organization has been endorsed by local communities in the U.S. territories of American Sāmoa, Guam, and Puerto. This project focuses on the Special Olympics as an inclusive organization that uses sports to include people with intellectual disabilities in the mentioned U.S territories. I am particularly interested in disability and its relation to disability and inclusion. Through interviews, oral histories, and archival research, this project examines Indigenous women’s experiences and participation in the Special Olympics games. I argue that disability sports are not adequate programs or solutions for community inclusion—rather, inclusion cannot be merely about physical inclusion but must include people’s cultural attitudes and relations to land and place. This study addresses the gap in research especially focusing on Indigenous girls and women with disabilities. Research questions that guide the project are: What is role in the Special Olympics in your lives? What efforts must be taken for people with intellectual disabilities to be included in the community and to dismantle ableism? I expand on what scholar activist Talila Lewis defines as the working definition of “ableism,” one way to explain how disability affects the lives of disabled people and those in racial communities. “Ableism,” is a system that places values on people’s bodies and minds based on socially constructed societal ideas of normality, desirability, and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism.


Juliann Anesi
Assistant Professor, Gender Studies, University of California-Los Angeles, California, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Gender Equity and Policy


Disability, Sports, Inclusion, US territories, American Samoa, Guam

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