This study undertook a rhetorical analysis of the Special Olympics, a leading advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities. More specifically, I analyzed a single section of the website, “Our Athletes,” using Burkean identification, to see how the organization constructs complex identities for its athletes and for all people with disabilities. My findings revealed that the Special Olympics website most commonly creates complex identities for people with disabilities by explicitly linking their members to people without disabilities. More specifically, I found the Special Olympics created identities for people with disabilities by describing the barriers and hardships they can face in society, by evoking emotion and encouraging empathy, and by showcasing the success the athletes have in life outside of athletics. One major implication of my study is that while the Special Olympics works to fight the stigma attached to people with disabilities, stigma is still present within the “Our Athletes” section in the form of misleading portrayals of ability for all people with disabilities and the lack of coverage for athletes with more severe disabilities.


Bostdorff, Denise

Second Advisor

Singh, Rohini


Communication Studies


disability, stigma, identity, Special Olympics, rhetoric

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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