Case Study: How the University at Albany Built a Unified Campus

Inclusion is like a house: With a little patience, a strong foundation, and the right parts, anyone can build it. That’s where Special Olympics New York comes in. With our help, more and more colleges across the state are building Unified campuses.

The University at Albany has an excellent blueprint. In this article, we’ll highlight some of their greatest achievements and show you how to replicate them.

Laying the Groundwork: UAlbany’s Special Olympics Club and Intramurals

When they’re done right, Unified Sports are one of the most impactful vehicles of change in our movement. In Unified Sports, athletes with and without disabilities compete on the same teams. While most of our Unified programming is in K-12 schools, we also bring Unified to a handful of colleges, such as UAlbany.

UAlbany’s Special Olympics Club is a pillar of campus inclusion. This club, comprised of students passionate about fundraising and advocating for Special Olympics New York, recruited their fellow students to compete. Many members even joined the teams themselves!

Next, the club collaborated with UAlbany’s intramural program to introduce Unified basketball, flag football, soccer, and tennis. These are authentic sports teams that follow Special Olympics International rules in partnership with the National Intramural Recreation Sports Association (NIRSA).

With the groundwork set for an inclusive campus, UAlbany took the next step to increase opportunities for students to engage.

Building on the Foundation: Internship Opportunities

Human Development is a required course for UAlbany Special Education majors. As part of the course work, students must log 135 hours in appropriate settings. Not a problem in most school years—unless you have a pandemic. Fortunately, we collaborated with UAlbany professors and devised a backup plan: an internship!

These student-interns completed numerous important tasks for our organization. For example, they pitched our Young Athletes program to local schools. They helped lead limited in-person Young Athletes events (while obeying proper safety protocols, of course). They edited Young Athletes videos, which parents and children can enjoy together at home. They even handled registrations and recorded data.

Despite being a mostly virtual internship, these students experienced almost every part of our program. This is the sort of involvement that arises at schools with strong inclusive foundations.

Adding the Finishing Touches: An Inclusive Classroom

We began our inclusive classroom initiative by inviting several Special Olympics New York athletes to take classes at UAlbany. In all, two professors offered six classes for our athletes. They learned about proper attire, speech writing, public speaking, and more. We secured the “Unified” feel by inviting students without disabilities to join, acting in a similar capacity to Unified partners. After their sixth and final class, our student-athletes delivered a speech on graduation day.

This was an outstanding educational experience, both for the students with intellectual disabilities and those without; the former had the pleasure of free, informative classes at a major institution, while the latter experienced the importance of inclusion first-hand.

Built to Last: How to Get Your School Involved

Whether it’s a school club, Unified intramurals, internship opportunities, or an inclusive classroom, there are so many ways to build an inclusive campus like UAlbany’s. To introduce opportunities like these at your school, email us at unified@nyso.org.

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