In the 1960s, when Special Olympics was founded, “retarded” was the acceptable term to describe people with intellectual disabilities. This was a time when people with intellectual disabilities were routinely institutionalized because their gifts and talents were not recognized.
That’s why Eunice Kennedy Shriver wanted to use language that was positive — language that would help set an upbeat tone. There were many conversations about words that could best describe an exceptional group of people. Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw the adjective “special” as a way to define the unique gifts of adults and children with intellectual disabilities. Starting with the very first Special Olympics International Games in 1968, she wanted to dwell on our athletes’ abilities, not disabilities.