Par­ent cries dis­crim­i­na­tion

Spe­cial Olympian de­nied spot on pro­vin­cial team over su­per­vi­sion needs


Diane Daw­son says her 20-yearold son Shawn is un­aware of the op­por­tu­nity he will miss out on when Team New­found­land and Labrador trav­els to St. Al­bert, Alta., for the 2012 Spe­cial Olympics Canada Win­ter Games in March 2012.

Shawn, who is autis­tic, won three gold medals at the 2011 Spe­cial Olympics New­found­land and Labrador Win­ter Games last month, re­sults good enough to qual­ify for the pro­vin­cial squad. But be­cause Shawn re­quires nearcon­stant su­per­vi­sion, he has been de­nied a spot on the team.

“ It’s dis­crim­i­nat­ing against the kids that need ex­tra help,” says Diane.

Ac­cord­ing to Nel­son White, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for New­found­land and Labrador Spe­cial Olympics, it all boils down to na­tional rules on ath­lete se­lec­tion. Along with point scores based on pro­vin­cial games re­sults, the or­ga­ni­za­tion must take into ac­count the club en­dorse­ment. That en­dorse­ment hinges on ath­letes be­ing able to take care of their own ba­sic needs.

“ Shawn has dif­fi­culty do­ing that,” says White. “ We took Shawn with us last year to Lon­don (Ont.) as part of the na­tional games, and he strug­gled, to be quite frank. We had a coach who was al­most ded­i­cated to Shawn.”

The New­found­land and Labrador con­tin­gent in Lon­don was a small one, with only three ath­letes and two coaches in­volved. At next year’s win­ter games, nine ath­letes will travel with three coaches.

“ We can’t pro­vide one-on-one care. We know that, and Shawn’s fam­ily knows that.”

Spe­cial Olympics Canada es­tab­lishes a quota for the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants who may travel from New­found­land and Labrador to the games in Al­berta.

“ If we choose to take one coach just to look af­ter Shawn, we lose that quota,” says White. “ We’d have to give up an­other coach or ath­lete.”

He says Spe­cial Olympics Canada’s be­lief is that al­low­ing per­sonal care work­ers to at­tend na­tional events would cause the size of teams to bal­loon and place a strain on ac­com­mo­da­tions.

Diane in­sists she would not want to pre­vent an­other ath­lete or coach from at­tend­ing the Al­berta event.

“I wouldn’t want an ath­lete turned away. That’s not what I’m fight­ing for,” she says.

Along with the competition in Lon­don, Shawn took part in a na­tional event as a swim­mer in Char­lot­te­town, P. E. I, in 2009.

Diane first learned of the de­ci­sion to leave Shawn off the team at a Tri-Con Spe­cial Olympics meet­ing held March 17 in Til­ton. Ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber Rick Oliver in­formed her of the de­ci­sion.

“ I knew there was rules that they had to be able to take care of them­selves, but Shawn went be­fore,” she says.

Tri-Con Spe­cial Olympics team­mate Crys­tal Young, who won a pair of gold and a sil­ver medal at the Cor­ner Brook event, did make the pro­vin­cial team.

Shawn’s mom ad­mits he can­not man­age in­de­pen­dently at any competition, as is the case in many other as­pects of his life. She would never send Shawn to a competition with­out some­one to look af­ter him.

“ He just needs guid­ance. He needs some­body to say, ‘ Okay Shawn, it’s time to put your py­ja­mas on, it’s time to go to bed, it’s time to get some­thing to eat.’”

She says the rule un­fairly pun­ishes her son, as well as oth­ers across Canada pos­sess­ing ath­letic abil­i­ties that are un­able to han­dle in­de­pen­dence.

“I want to get those rules changed ... I’d like to see that all the chil­dren would be able to get the op­por­tu­nity to go if they’re at the level to be able to go to na­tion­als.”

Shawn has dif­fi­culty so­cial­iz­ing, and Diane says his neardecade-long in­volve­ment with the Tri-Con team has been great in that re­gard.

“ But we trained him hard so he could go to Al­berta. What an op­por­tu­nity for him, to go to Al­berta and be able to com­pete.”

White says this de­ci­sion does not close the door on Shawn’s fu­ture par­tic­i­pa­tion in na­tional com­pe­ti­tions.

“ In this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion, it wasn’t go­ing to work. No one ever said Shawn will never be able to go to an­other na­tional games. Given an­other set of cir­cum­stances, he may be.”

The pro­vin­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion is well aware of the pos­i­tive ef­fect Spe­cial Olympics has had on Shawn, adds White.

“ We wel­come Shawn back to our pro­grams, and hope­fully Shawn will con­tinue to com­pete with Spe­cial Olympics. We know how far he’s come in the years he’s been with Spe­cial Olympics, as far as his de­vel­op­ment has been.”

To ad­vo­cate for fu­ture rules changes, Diane has con­tacted the New­found­land and Labrador Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, Port de Grave Lib­eral MHA Roland But­ler, and Lib­eral MP Scott An­drews ( Avalon).

Photo by Andrew Robin­son/The Com­pass

Shawn Daw­son (left) will not get to go to the 2012 Spe­cial Olympics Canada Win­ter Games be­cause he can­not take care of him­self with­out con­stant su­per­vi­sion. Spe­cial Olympics Canada does not al­low ath­letes to have per­sonal care at­ten­dants at na­tional events. His mother Diane says the rule un­fairly dis­crim­i­nates against her son.

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