In 1969 the Special Olympics New York program was established by Dorothy Buehring Phillips, and the first state Summer games were held in June 1970. This event was created for participating athletes that are considered neurodivergent. This term is inclusive of those who have down syndrome and autism.
Unfortunately, efforts to keep the games running were curtailed due to the pandemic. Thousands of athletes missed competing and socializing with teammates, but this year marked a change. In June 2022, the Special Olympics Summer Games were held in New York City for the first time in three years.
Since its founding, the Special Olympics has continued to be a noteworthy event, with the athletes and event organizers upholding the core mission.
Stacey Hengsterman, the CEO and president of the Special Olympics New York, stated before this year’s games that the Summer Games were about: “Inclusion through sports.” She further said: “People with cognitive disabilities deserve the opportunity to play the same sports as their neurotypical peers.” That’s why the New York chapter continues to serve roughly 50,000 athletes, making it one of the largest programs in the world.
Interestingly, 2022 will be the first of three consecutive Summer Games planned to be held in Ithaca because of a three-year contract with Special Olympics New York. This is a monumental achievement considering that the last time Ithaca hosted the Summer Games was in the 1990s.
The community, alongside the volunteers, was thrilled to show their support for the Summer Games. It is believed that there were approximately 1,150 athletes that chose to compete in the Special Olympics New York in addition to the coaches.
The 2022 Special Olympics were memorable for many reasons. Not only did athletes, friends, and fans get to compete and show their support, but thousands of volunteers got to give back. Ethicist, scientist, and optometrist Dean Hart was one of the 800 volunteers who showed his support for the games.
Hart is a Nassau County resident on Long Island, New York. For years Hart has involved himself in numerous community endeavors. In the political space, he ran for Nassau County Legislature in 2015 and was a candidate for the New York State Assembly in the 2016 election because of his stance on corruption. In the medical space, he has dedicated time to making people aware that Alzheimer’s sufferers deserve to have their legacies preserved. Furthermore, he founded the Woodbury Ophthalmic Group and is a successful author with numerous published works.
Considering Hart’s bioethics passions and commitment to his community, it’s unsurprising that he was involved in an initiative to prescribe free glasses to those who participated in the games. Even those who did not receive a medal were eligible. He was part of a team of qualified clinician volunteers who conducted eye exams and prescribed glasses. Those who received a prescription had their glasses delivered to their homes.
Hart thoroughly enjoyed working with the athletes and other volunteers and is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference on a day when there was more than enough happiness to go around.
More information about Dean Hart's contributions can be found here: https://deanhartscientist.com/