What is Special Olympics Unified Robotics™?
Special Olympics Unified Robotics™ is a student-designed and implemented robotics program open to students with and without intellectual disabilities, as well as students with a variety of learning and behavior challenges. Unified Robotics includes an equal number of participants as robotics team partners to train, strategize and compete.
Unified Robotics is the first of its kind and brings the world of STEM and the sport of robotics to more high school students interested in STEM – including many students who are often excluded from extracurricular activities. Team partners work one-on-one with athletes (i.e. students with intellectual disabilities) to build robots using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® Kits. Small teams create their own robot including designing, building, and programming the robot. At the final tournament-style competition, each team presents their robot and its features, and competes in a new game created each year.
Meet Delaney, Founder of Unified Robotics.
Delaney Foster, an alumna of the CyberKnights, a FIRST Robotics Competition Team (4911), is the founder and designer of the program. She was inspired by Special Olympics® Unified Sports® programs to create a robotics program that her sister, Kendall, who has autism and Intellectual Disabilities, could participate in.
“My sister [Kendall] goes to Roosevelt High School and she’s diagnosed with autism. She’s our biggest [robotics] fan, so I started researching to see if there’s any program she can be involved in, and we couldn’t find any.”
The Pilot Season
The CyberKnights ran the 2015 season of Unified Robotics at Kendall’s school, Roosevelt High School, in Seattle. Athletes from two other Seattle public high schools joined together on this team.
Now a Part of Special Olympics®
The CyberKnights and Special Olympics Washington are currently working together to expand the Unified Robotics program to the national level. In addition, Special Olympics is talking with the WIAA (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) to recognize Unified Robotics as a sanctioned high school program, and develop a state tournament format. Plans are in motion to introduce Unified Robotics to the world at the 2018 USA Games, televised by ESPN.
The CyberKnights have created a Unified Robotics Guidebook and are working with other FIRST Robotics teams to form a Unified Robotics Alliance, a coalition which is committed to fostering acceptance, equity and inclusion in their schools.
Creating the Norm
Unified Robotics helps bring together students of diverse populations and abilities as teammates and competitors on the field of play – providing leadership opportunities and paving the way for social inclusion community wide. There has been a dramatic transformation in all the students involved in this program, the participants and the peer mentors.
“Creating the norm,” is a term Delaney uses to explain her vision for the near future when she and her teammates will be in leadership positions in STEM industries, and will be actively promoting neuro-diverse hiring policies, and workplace accommodation and adaptation. Through experiences like Unified Robotics, students are breaking down stereotypes around individuals with ID and other learning & behavioral challenges, as well as stereotypes which exist in STEM.
Unified Robotics™ In the News
Taking Inclusion to the Next Level
This Young Woman Found A Way For Her Big Sister To Enjoy Robotics
December 23, 2015
Seattle teen creates robotics program for kids with special needs
December 15, 2015