Special Olympics World Games – Experiencing inclusion first hand
The Special Olympics World Games are the largest inclusive sporting event in the world. Every four years, thousands of athletes living with disabilities compete with and against each other. Many volunteers contribute to the success of the event. This year, a team from thyssenkrupp was among them. As volunteers, Udo Petrack, Patrick Rack and Jana Eisenhuth-Krohm experienced the event first-hand and provided active support in catering for five days. A unique experience from which they took lots of inspiration for their inclusion work at thyssenkrupp.
From 17th to 25th June 2023, the Special Olympics World Games took place in Germany for the first time. Every two years, the international event is an exuberant, cheerful and colourful celebration of sport and social participation for people with disabilities. Three thyssenkrupp colleagues were also on site as volunteers.
Like the Paralympics, the Special Olympics are also recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). However, the two events differ in essential points: Only people with mental or multiple disabilities can take part in the Special Olympics, while competitive athletes with physical disabilities compete in the Paralympics. In addition, there are further differences in the sporting philosophy: at the Special Olympics, for example, no one can be excluded due to a lack of sporting performance. Instead of an exclusionary qualification procedure, the athletes are simply entered into performance classes that are suitable for them and enable fair competition. Personal best performances are considered top performances.
Supporting the Special Olympics as a volunteer
Supporting the Special Olympics as a volunteer
"On the pitch, in the audience and at the catering – everywhere there was an incredibly exuberant, appreciative and motivating atmosphere," says Udo Petrack enthusiastically. The representative for the severely disabled at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions and his SBV colleague Patrick Rack as well as the representative for the severely disabled at thyssenkrupp Dynamic Components Jana Eisenhuth-Krohm were three of a total of 18,000 volunteers in Berlin in June.
"Under the motto #UnbeatableTogether, people with and without disabilities work together in tandem teams on and off the field at the Special Olympics, supporting each other and taking over from each other when they run out of steam," explain the thyssenkrupp volunteers, adding enthusiastically: "This kind of cooperation is practiced inclusion. And that's exactly where we want to be at thyssenkrupp." In addition to the goal of helping, informing themselves and showing that thyssenkrupp values inclusion and is actively committed to it, it was precisely this kind of impetus that the three experts hoped to gain from their voluntary assignment.
Living inclusion at the Special Olympics
"Many people talk, but only a few actually do something," says Udo. "If we want to understand even better how to include people living with mental disabilities in the world of work, we need to experience such an environment ourselves and look at concepts where these people work inclusively."
In order to take part, the team first had to apply, complete various training courses after acceptance and finally sign up for work in the catering & hospitality area at the exhibition centre. The three colleagues think this is the perfect place to make contacts and get into conversation. And indeed: the team meets lots of athletes and other volunteers and quickly realises that being there really is everything.
On and off the field, they look at beaming faces. "It was hardly about who wins," say the thyssenkrupp representatives. "Instead, genuine appreciation is lived, and achievements and efforts are recognised and appreciated, regardless of victory or defeat." Unlike the classic Olympic Games, there are not only bronze, silver and gold medals at the Special Olympics, but a total of 10 places on the winners' podium.
Athletic inclusion as a role model for the workplace
An approach that leaves an impression on Jana and her colleagues: "It wasn't about who can't do something. It was about what strengths each individual brings to the table and how people can be supported," she explains.
The experts also take this attitude with them for inclusion in the work environment. Not every person and employee has to be able to do the same thing, everyone has individual talents. This applies to people with and without disabilities. "The people we met at the Special Olympics were incredibly motivated to achieve something and gave everything they could," says Patrick. "In the world of work, too, we have to look at what is possible. And not what is not possible."
Inclusion at thyssenkrupp
The thyssenkrupp team agrees that the volunteer work at the Special Olympics was a complete success: "It was nice to see that social participation was not only for the athletes."
The aim of the Disabled Persons' Representative Council is to "enable people with disabilities to participate in public life and in working life at thyssenkrupp". The aim of the volunteer work at the Special Olympics was to look beyond the end of one's nose as a representative of severely disabled people and to see what approaches the experts at thyssenkrupp could adopt. "The commitment of the people at the event showed me: We are on the right track as far as inclusion is concerned," says Udo.
Read more about Diversity & Inclusion at thyssenkrupp in our stories.