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  • Writer's pictureRationale Arts


In 2017 the Special Olympics came to Sheffield and our Artistic Director was given the honour of being the Artistic Director of the Opening Ceremony which was held at Sheffield United football ground in front of 16,000 people. It was a huge honour for Rationale Arts to be involved in the Special Olympics as many of the company members hail from Sheffield.

The Opening Ceremony bought together a variety of acts from all over the country and many factors had to be taken into consideration. Many round table meetings with the Special Olympics CEO, Sheffield United football ground, Liz Hobbs Group, Sheffield Public Transport and a host of other organisations we carried out to get a sense of the enormity of this project both logistically and artistically. Even getting the athletes to arrive at the venue was a choreography within itself as getting 2600 people to the stadium by bus is something that required timing, formation and consideration of traffic flow.

Changing Perceptions

Many non-disabled people think that people with intellectual disabilities cannot be athletes let alone Olympians. This is a perception we were striving to change through the content showcased at the opening ceremony.

We set about raising expectations of what is possible for people with intellectual disabilities and also to inspire a nation to achieve greatness in whatever they do regardless of them being disabled or non-disabled.

From direct experience, we know that people with intellectual disabilities possess many incredible qualities that are often associated with being necessary to achieve greatness in certain fields. It is only because the stigma that surrounds intellectual disability that makes it trickier for non-disabled people to realise this. For example, many people with autism have incredible minds and are super precise so they make incredible musicians!

People with Down Syndrome have very flexible bodies and so they naturally make great dancers. It is because of this we devised a Creative Brief that looks at the Artistry within athletes and the athleticism within artists.

During the Opening ceremony everybody took a departure from witnessing regular athletic events and instead witnessed SUPER EVENTS. For example, instead of the long jump audiences saw someone going for a world record attempt for the longest flip on power stilts, instead of the pole vault people saw pole athletes performing unison choreography with references to pole vaulting movement.

The psychology behind it was to get people to think beyond the norm and to take them to a place where anything is possible and barriers are broken.

This brief wasn’t just trying to transform audiences beliefs and expectations but also artists expectations too.

It was a huge honour for Rationale Arts to play such a significant role in creation and execution of the Artistic Vision of the Opening Ceremony as it gave so many artists (both disabled and non-disabled) the opportunity to work with people and in ways that they would never have worked before.

Most significantly it opened the public's eyes to what people with intellectual disabilities are truly capable of by providing a platform that they both had the opportunity to shine from and take ownership of.

To learn more about Rationale Arts and how we support the community visit

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