The premier showcase of Unified Champion Schools at SXSW EDU 2019 was the unveiling of the incredible interactive exhibit called “Unlocking Inclusion.”
It is one thing to simply talk to people about inclusion, but it is something else entirely to show what inclusion looks like. The Unlocking Inclusion exhibit – which was open to SXSW EDU attendees all three Expo days – was an interactive journey through the history of Special Olympics and the Unified strategy. Featuring multimedia equipped lockers, attendees could walk through the “halls” of a school and learn about how Unified Champion Schools offers the solution for social inclusion in schools.
The Unlocking Inclusion Exhibit featured a "Unified Generation Tribune" newsletter, also available in Braille!
In the course of three days, thousands of attendees walked through Unlocking Inclusion, learned about the work of Unified Champion Schools, and even played some Unified Bocce with volunteers from Special Olympics Texas. Unlocking Inclusion was a memorable statement of the UCS team’s presence at SXSW, and set a precedent for making inclusion a priority at the conference.
The presence of SOUCS was not just limited to the Expo Hall, however; Special Olympics made an impressive showing in panels as well. Most prominent was Dr. Tim Shriver’s Featured Panel entitled “A Unified Perspective” which featured Texas special educator Erika Guerrero, Special Olympics athlete and Youth Ambassador Tahja Ilerant, former-NFL star and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Jamaal Charles, and Buffalo Bills player and Unified Champion School alumnus Eddie Yarbrough. Panelists spoke about their work in bringing together students with and without intellectual disabilities in order to play together, learn together, and have the opportunity to build genuine friendships.
Genuine inclusion was also a main topic at the second of the panels led by representatives from Special Olympics called “Unified Generation: Youth & Social Inclusion.” In fact, this panel was voted for by SXSW EDU attendees on SXSW’s Panel Picker to be included in the final lineup of sessions! Led by Special Olympics senior directors Andrea Cahn and Soeren Palumbo, this panel featured two youth leaders who spoke beautifully and candidly on their experiences with inclusion. Ivalis Guajardo, a Special Olympics partner, and Mitch Bonar, a Special Olympics athlete, described the impact that the Unified strategy has had on their lives, educations, and even possible careers.