Damola Roberts who won three gold medals in 50m, 100m and relay swimming events at the just concluded 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, typifies the challenges of growing up in Nigeria with intellectual disabilities. As a child, he was laughed at, made to eat grass and sand and even ignored in school by his sister. Today, he is being celebrated as a hero.

There are many individuals undergoing challenging situations because they suffer from Intellectual Disabilities (ID).  It is not uncommon to see those who suffer from ID being treated to unkind remarks, or turned into social outcasts, largely because society has set a stigma on them. It is also not unusual to hear of persons with intellectual disabilities (sometimes called cognitive disabilities or previously, mental retardation) hidden from the public by their families. 

Usually, those classified as having intellectual disabilities have certain limitations in mental functioning that affect their communication, social interactions and the ability to take care of themselves. All these limitations cause a child to develop more slowly than a typical child. People with intellectual disabilities may find it difficult to learn some things, but this does not mean they are devoid of good sense or judgement as portrayed in some Nigerian films and television series, where persons with Down Syndrome are caricatured. 

ID is not limited to congenital disorder such as Down syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome and Phenylketonuria (PKU). It could be caused by problems at birth due to lack of oxygen, problems during pregnancy caused by drinking alcohol or from an infection like rubella. In some cases, intellectual disabilities could also be from the effect of traumatic brain injury or lead poisoning and from conditions like whooping cough, measles and meningitis.

Actually, the cultural portrayal of people with intellectual disabilities is one of the deeply rooted reasons many people lack an understanding of the contributions they can offer to the society when supported. Many of those with intellectual disabilities understand society does not accept them, so they find comfort and refuge in non-academic pursuits to compensate and defend themselves, and are highly appreciative of what is done for them. This explains why Special Olympics Nigeria (SON) has become a life belt for many individuals and families who had almost given up on themselves. 

Since inception in 2001, SON, an affiliate of Special Olympics International has been supporting children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and their families though sports. The organisation offers a platform that gives them the opportunity to experience joy and enhance their social skills while making friendship. 

At the just concluded 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games which held in Los Angeles, USA, where Special Olympics Nigeria were Nigeria’s flagbearer, SON participated in Table-Tennis, Athletics, Badminton, Aquatics, Basketball, Cycling and Unified Soccer, and won a total of 71 medals.  

The Board Chairman of SON, Victor Osibodu at the welcome reception held for the SON athletes expressed that all individuals suffering from ID need is support. He explained that it was important to understand the needs of people, and giving examples with the successful outing of the team. He therefore noted, “In soccer, our football team defeated countries like Germany, Russia, South Africa and other top teams in the world to win gold. We are proud of the athletes and I want to pledge that our support for the special athletes will continue to grow.”

Coca-Cola, a dedicated supporter and sponsor of SON had included two representatives to feature at the Unified Soccer games of the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games. The representatives offered moral support to the athletes. Speaking on the commitment of the company, Managing Director, Coca-Cola Nigeria Limited, Adeola Adetunji explained that, “Coca-Cola has been an active global supporter of the Special Olympics movement since it was founded in 1968. In Nigeria, we have been a dedicated supporter of SON, sharing moments of joy and happiness in our partnership which is based on our shared values.’’ 

Speaking on the support and partnership between SON and Coca-Cola, one of the SON athletes, Solomon Jegede who was the Captain of Nigeria’s basketball team at the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angeles in an interview expressed that the support had gone a long way in giving confidence to him and his colleagues.  “It does not matter if some people cannot talk. What matters is what they can offer to the society. We have made the entire nation proud with our achievements, so we can contribute to the development of Nigeria too.” 

And just as Martina Navratilova once said, “Disability is a matter of perception. If you can do just one thing well, you are needed by someone.” Our special athletes have done well and we need to continue to support them always.




About Coca Cola Nigeria Limited

Coca-Cola Nigeria, an active citizen of the community and one of the most respected companies in Nigeria, is a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company, the world's largest beverage company, refreshing consumers with more than 500 sparkling and still brands.  Led by Coca-Cola, one of the world's most valuable and recognizable brands, our Company's portfolio features 17 billion-dollar brands including Diet Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Coca-Cola Zero, vitamin water, Powerade, Minute Maid, Simply, Georgia and Del Valle. 

Globally, we are the No. 1 provider of sparkling beverages, ready-to-drink coffees, and juices and juice drinks. Through the world's largest beverage distribution system, consumers in more than 200 countries enjoy our beverages at a rate of more than 1.9 billion servings a day.  With an enduring commitment to building sustainable communities, our Company is focused on initiatives that reduce our environmental footprint, support active, healthy living, create a safe, inclusive work environment for our associates, and enhance the economic development of the communities where we operate. Together with our bottling partners, we rank among the world's top 10 private employers with more than 700,000 system associates. 





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