Now a global institution with over 4.5 million participating athletes, the Special Olympics had humble beginnings dating back to the 1950s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver recognized the unfair treatment of people with intellectual disabilities, specifically in sport. She began hosting summer day camps in her backyard with an emphasis on what the children could do in sports, rather than focusing on what they were unable to do. Her efforts throughout the next decade helped spawn the Special Olympics movement, aided in part by her role as the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation director and member of Pres. John F. Kennedy's White House panel addressing the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.
The first International Special Olympics Summer Games took place on July 20, 1968, at Soldier Field in Chicago. Approximately 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada competed in floor hockey, swimming, and track and field. Three years later, the U.S. Olympic Committee gave Special Olympics approval to use the word "Olympics.” The first-ever Special Olympics Winter Games was held in 1977 and received network coverage from CBS, NBC, and ABC.