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The Low Profile of the Special Olympics Reminds Us That Most People Still Don't Understand Leaning Disability

30/08/2013 16:22 BST | Updated 30/10/2013 09:12 GMT

Did you know that the Special Olympics, the UK's biggest sporting event dedicated to the athletic achievements of people with learning disabilities, are taking place right now in Bath? If you didn't, nobody could blame you. Lacking the huge investment, brand recognition and international glamour of last year's Paralympic Games, it's unsurprising that they don't get as much attention. However, their low profile may also reflect the fact that most people generally aren't as aware of learning disabilities as they are of physical disabilities.

This is not a modern problem - in fact, recent decades have seen a great deal of progress when it comes to the visibility of learning disabilities. Historically people with learning disabilities were locked away in institutions, literally hidden from society, something which is now, thankfully, almost entirely a thing of the past. But one consequence of this shameful history is that most people still don't know much about the 1 millionor more people with learning disabilities living in this country.

The Special Olympics were created, partly, to change that. Even if they aren't as mammoth in scale as the Paralympics, the Special Olympics are still a valuable way of shining a spotlight on what people with learning disabilities can achieve. After all - as the Paralympics proved - sport is a particularly effective way of showing how much we all have in common, rather than focusing on our differences.

However, we should also remember that not all people with learning disabilities can be sporting heroes. The spectrum of disability is vast and the achievements of disabled people are rich and varied. That's why we created our Postcards from the Edges project, offering a space for people with disabilities to express themselves about the things that matter to them in a postcard format.

Hundreds of people have sent us postcard paintings, postcard poems and even knitted postcards, and these will be exhibited in London to mark one year from the Paralympics. The postcards describe the many things disabled people are proud of - from working in a pub to acting on stage, from being a parent to volunteering in their local community. They also describe their fears, which are often of being invisible and isolated.

Most of all, what the flood of postcards prove is that disabled people - particularly those with learning disabilities - often feel they aren't listened to. This is a waste, as they have so much to say, and so much to contribute. All of society will be richer when disabled people's voices are heard and their contributions recognised.

The media can help, by featuring more disabled people, whether in newspapers or soap operas. But the rest of us can also do our bit by showing an interest in the fascinating lives all around us and making new connections. Start today by take a look at what is happening in Bath right now at the dedicated Special Olympics website. And if you're anywhere near Bath, why not go down and cheer the athletes on?