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New 'Humans of New York' Series Focuses on People With Disabilities at the Special Olympics

Attendees and athletes at the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi are getting a social media boost from the other side of the world — “Humans of New York.” The first post is dedicated to an aspiring journalist with disabilities from Costa Rica.

The popular photo blog, which was started in 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton, captures portraits of humans and their unique stories through interviews and photographs. In the past, Stanton has featured people with chronic illness, mental health conditions, cancer and health care professionals. While Stanton focuses on New York, he has taken the series around the world and has now landed in Abu Dhabi for a series focused on those participating at the games.

“The opening ceremony for the Special Olympics World Games is currently being held in Abu Dhabi, UAE,” Stanton wrote in an Instagram post. “For the next couple weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from a wide range of participants including athletes, coaches and family members.”

On Friday, Stanton posted his first interview from the Games with an aspiring Costa Rican journalist, Ariel. Ariel shared with Stanton what he was asking athletes and how his support team — his mom and grandmother — were assisting his efforts. “My name is Ariel and I’m from Costa Rica and my dream is to be a journalist,” he said. “I have an Instagram page where I am going to put all my interviews.” He continued:  

This week I would like to cover the feelings of the athletes and parents and coaches. I ask questions like: ‘Are you having fun?’ And ‘What is your favorite sport?’ And ‘Are you enjoying Abu Dhabi?’ My mom is helping me think of the questions to ask. I don’t know what I would do without her. She tells me to be patient and says that if someone is busy, we need to wait until they are finished before asking questions. She reminds me to talk slowly. And to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ And to love people. And not to say bad words. I want to thank her so much for all her help. I would also like to thank my job at the IBM infrastructure department for letting me come here. I would also like to thank my grandmother who has come to help us. It hurts for her to walk but I feel confident when she is here. Her job is to have fun. I would like to thank her so much. Thank you so much for this interview.

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“My name is Ariel and I’m from Costa Rica and my dream is to be a journalist. I have an Instagram page where I am going to put all my interviews. This week I would like to cover the feelings of the athletes and parents and coaches. I ask questions like: ‘Are you having fun?’ And ‘What is your favorite sport?’ And ‘Are you enjoying Abu Dhabi?’ My mom is helping me think of the questions to ask. I don’t know what I would do without her. She tells me to be patient and says that if someone is busy, we need to wait until they are finished before asking questions. She reminds me to talk slowly. And to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ And to love people. And not to say bad words. I want to thank her so much for all her help. I would also like to thank my job at the IBM infrastructure department for letting me come here. I would also like to thank my grandmother who has come to help us. It hurts for her to walk but I feel confident when she is here. Her job is to have fun. I would like to thank her so much. Thank you so much for this interview.” (Special Olympics World Games, Abu Dhabi, UAE)

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Stanton’s series at the Special Olympics World Games centers the voices of people with disabilities like Ariel.  So far, he’s allowed them to tell their own stories as opposed to having others talk for them, which is a “frustrating” experience, as Mighty contributor Joe Akmakjian wrote about in his piece, “I’m an Adult. Talk to Me Like One.” He said:

There have been many times I’ve been out at a restaurant with friends my age, ready to give my order, only to be skipped over by the server who turns to another person and asks them what I’d like to eat. Hello? I’m right here! The expectation seems to be that I can’t answer for myself. When I speak up and say what I’d like for my meal — and add “And I’ll have an extra dirty martini (shaken, not stirred)” — the server’s face typically goes from ghost white to beet red all in a matter of seconds. This experience is all too common for adults in the physically disabled community. Being overlooked is frustrating.

Stanton said in an Instagram post he hoped his upcoming series of “Humans of New York” posts from Abu Dhabi highlight people with intellectual disabilities.

“The main theme of Special Olympics is inclusion, and that’s what these stories are all about,” Stanton said. “Having an intellectual disability can be isolating. Society might not be understanding of your needs. Classmates might be confused by your behavior. In some places you might literally be hidden away. Special Olympics is a refuge from all that. It’s a place where you can play and compete and succeed without being made to feel your difference.”

View this post on Instagram

The opening ceremony for the Special Olympics World Games is currently being held in Abu Dhabi, UAE. For the next couple weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from a wide range of participants including athletes, coaches, and family members. The main theme of Special Olympics is inclusion, and that’s what these stories are all about. Having an intellectual disability can be isolating. Society might not be understanding of your needs. Classmates might be confused by your behavior. In some places you might literally be hidden away. Special Olympics is a refuge from all that. It’s a place where you can play and compete and succeed without being made to feel your difference. Thanks to the HONY Patreon community for funding this series. Thanks to @specialolympics and @worldgamesad for organizing everything and letting me hang around. And thanks to all the athletes who shared their stories. Hope you enjoy!

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You can follow all of Stanton’s coverage of the Special Olympics on Humans of New York’s Instagram.

Header image via Humans of New York Instagram