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Maria Shriver’s new poll reveals America’s changing perception towards people with intellectual disabilites

As the 2015 Los Angeles Special Olympics World Games gets underway, athletes and fans can be seen traversing the streets of LA as they head to and from competitions. However, despite the crowds of supporters here for the games, The Shriver Report Snapshot reveals that 18% of Americans say they have never heard of an intellectual disability.

The release of the Shriver Report Snapshot: Insight into Intellectual Disabilities coincides with the start of the World Games and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report reveals the nation’s changing perception of many of the issues associated with intellectual disabilities, and some of the results are surprising.

The poll from Shriver Media and Special Olympics International, with the support of the Richard and Cecilia Attias Foundation, surveyed 2,021 adults over the course of three days. Participants were asked about whether they knew someone, would hire someone, or marry someone with intellectual disabilities, as well as their thoughts on when using the “R-word” (retard) was appropriate.

“[The poll] does tell us who we are as a nation, what we think, feel, and believe about people with intellectual disabilities, and that directly, I think, affects the health -mental, emotional, physical health- of people with intellectual disabilities and their families,” Maria Shriver said.

While only a little over half (56%) of those surveyed knew someone with intellectual disabilities, 83% say they would be comfortable working with someone with intellectual disabilities, and 89% say they would be comfortable having their child be in the same classroom as a child with intellectual disabilities.

However while most Americans seem to have a positive outlook towards interacting with people with intellectual disabilities, they’re actions don’t always support their views. While 93% of Americans believe that adults with intellectual disabilities should be encouraged to have jobs, only 80% of Americans would be at least somewhat comfortable employing someone with an intellectual disability.

“[People with intellectual disabilities] want to have fully integrated lives, and while Americans think that’s a good idea, they don’t really know how to go about doing that,” Shriver said.

The uneasiness of interacting with people with intellectual disabilities increases with age, as millennials, specifically millennial women, were found to be the most positive and inclusive group.

“Millennial women are open, they’re progressive, they see the world in a different way. They see it more label-less I think, than perhaps previous generations,” Shriver said.

Shriver said this attitude doesn’t only apply towards how millennial women view people with intellectual disabilities, but also other areas such as gender and politics.

In order to shrink the number of Americans who feel uncomfortable interacting with those with intellectual disabilities, or have never even heard of one, fostering interactions is key towards changing America’s perspective in the coming years.

This is something Shriver knows her mother would be pushing for. Shriver’s mother, Eunice Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in 1968 after hosting Camp Shriver in her backyard, which became the foundation for today’s Special Olympics World Games.  Going out and making a new friend, seeing a Special Olympics World Games competition, or volunteering are just some of the things Shriver encourages the public to do with her new “Let’s Change the Game” initiative.

The attitude of not only America, but the world may be changing in the coming years as well with the $25 million donation from the Golisano Foundation to help create more healthy communities throughout the globe. The healthy communities initiative started with 14 pilot countries, and now plans to grow with the Special Olympics’ largest donation they have ever received.

The hope is to create better health services to provide year-round support to people with intellectual disabilities.  More healthy communities will also help foster greater acceptance.

In the next 25 years, Shriver hopes to see a nation that will harbor no reservations towards people with intellectual disabilities. Rather than only half the nation knowing someone with intellectual disabilities, she hopes to see that number at 100% in order to create an environment that fully accepts people with intellectual disabilities.

“You can’t play if you don’t feel good,” Shriver said. “You can’t stand up and use your voice if you don’t feel seen.”

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You can read the full findings from the Shriver Report Snapshot at mariashriver.com/blog/2015/07/shriver-report-snapshot-insight-into-intellectual-disabilities-21st-century-full-findings/