This morning we talked with 17-year old Jenny Youngwith and her mother Janice. The family has filed a lawsuit against the Special Olympics and the West Chicago Community High School where Jenny is enrolled. The organization and school have prohibited Jenny from playing on the school’s Special Olympics basketball and running teams.
Jenny, who has cerebral palsy and fatigues easily because of respiratory problems, uses a service dog to get around. The dog carries her oxygen tank. For the last six years Jenny, along with her service dog, has been playing basketball for a special education program at Northern Illinois University. However, Jenny is really disappointed that she is not allowed to play with her classmates at her high school.
We want to hear your thoughts on this story: should the family give up or should the Special Olympics of Illinois try to accommodate Jenny? Email us your comments and Kyra will read some of your responses during the 10am hours of CNN Newsroom
Sounds like Jenny has been given a bad hand in life but her illness sounds like it would be a no win situation for the rest of the team and a hazard to Jenny's life and a selfish act to the rest of the team .
I don't think it's fair that this girl won't be allowed to play on the Special Olympics. Isn't that what the "Special" in Special Olympics is all about, to give opportunity to children with disabilities to play sports?
It is admirable that Jenny has been playing basketball, and that her service dog has been allowed with her.
But what is not too clear in your question is, is her high school for students with special needs? If so, then ALL the students have special needs and there should be no reason to exclude Jenny.
But if her high school is a mainstream school I think common sense would dictate whether she is allowed to play for the team. Several questions must be answered.
First, what is the pace of the games she has been playing in? I mean, is the game as fast-paced as games played by students with no special needs?
And, when Jenny plays with her service dog along, does the dog have to actually go on the court at any time? Or does it sit on the sidelines until or if she needs oxygen?
If the games she has been playing in are as fast moving as the games at her high school, and if her dog would NOT have to at any time be on the court and would pose no hazard for other players, and if the school district would not have to pay prohibitive insurance (or perhaps not be able to get insurance at all), then Jenny should be allowed to play.
But, if her games have been at a much slower pace than those at her high school, if her dog must go out on the court, and if the high school would have insurance issues (that would impact all the other students negatively) then NO, Jenny should keep playing where she has been playing, and she should drop this lawsuit, which in such cases would be frivolous.
I am a disabled person, and do want to have the same rights as everyone else. But I DO understand that there are just some things I cannot do, or can only do with a lot of help, and I do NOT expect the general population to have to change to accomodate me! That would be very selfish.
I think it's totally unfair to not include Jenny, especially when she already plays. If it's her dog, I doubt it's a real issue, he is a work dog, it's not like he is going to get in her or any other athlete's way. You fight Jenny, good for you!
Another example of the misplaced sense of entitlement within America where the individuals wants are more important than the consideration of others.
A dog and oxygen tank on a basketball court or running track? Please.
I feel that in a country that was built on and is supposed to exist on people going as far as their abilities and talents will carry them, that this young lady was told just the opposite. The special olympics committee needs to examine their abilities to make better decisions.
I believe Jenny should be treated fairly and a reasonable accomodation should be made to allow her to participate. Thank You CNN for making the public aware of the challenges many handicapped people confront!
I can understand the coach's or whoever is in charge of the decision to not let her play becauseof the O2 tank and dog. Another player could trip over the dog and be hurt, or if a player would fall and come in contact with the O2 tank it could injure a player. Why couldn't Jenny wear the tank on her back in some sort or pack, that would elminate the dog being on the court. There still is the problem with coming into contact with the tank, but if the pack is padded that would make any injury very minor at most. I think if there was a way to eliminate the obvious problems, it would make it alot easier for the coach/whoever to allow her on the team.
one one hand, I see the point of the Special Olympics. Liability issues should always be a concern with an animal. But, then again, Jenny's dog is very very well behaved! If the Youngwith's have allowed Jenny and her pup to play for 6 years, then what is the problem? The dog obviously hasn't been aggressive as of yet to other children, or I assume that Jenny's family would have not allowed her to play. This is a stupid issue that shouldn't have even been disputed. Jenny and her dog should be allowed to play! I think that the Youngwith's have every right to do whatever is possible to help their daughter achieve her goals, and that the Illinois Special Olympics is holding her back from her dreams and goals.
Why don't those in charge just run a game or two with the dog and see how it works out. Then all concerned can actually see how it will works out and make a decision then. Seems simple to me?
I really feel sorry for Jenny, but I understand the Special Olympics stance on the issue. I can see how having a dog attached to a flamable and explosive device poses a danger. When running plays, weaving between defenders, the tube is bound to get tangled up with other players.
It seems like a compromise could be reached. I see the need for the dog in everyday life, but does Jenny really need her companion every minute of the day? I would think that there is a device where whe oxygen tank could be strapped to her back, thus eliminating the need for the five food tube. With the device attached to her, there would be no entanglement issues with other players.
I'm sure the reason the Special Olympics team is holding onto is that it would be unsafe to have a dog moving around the court with other disabled individuals attempting to play a game.
Perhaps the family of the girl should seek alternative methods that would allow her to participate. A backpack device for an oxygen tank does not come off as complicated.
What alternatives has the family already tried? None were mentioned, but they stated they had tried to compromise.
What a touching story! I'm always so moved by stories that involve K9 aids. As a female that played basketball most of my childhood life, I know how much fun the sport can be and the great bonds and relationships that can develop on the basketball court with your teammates and coaches. Jenny should not be deprived of this opportunity or the ability to compete and partake in the Special Olympics. As a child with special needs and more challenges than most adults probably have to face in their entire life, I hope the organization can find a way to accommodate Jenny's situation and Simba can go along for the ride too! Best of luck to all of you!
What a slanted story.
This is a nice young child but that is a LARGE dog
and if I had a special needs child in the game I'd be
concerned that this dog would trip or knock over my
child during game play. What really bugged me about
this story was that this so called reporter was putting
words in this little girls mouth leading her in the direction
she wanted to slant and spin the story.
To me, this lawsuit is ridiculous. These kids are used to playing unobstructed by anything other than their opponents and teamates BODIES. Add a potential 5-foot radius to Jenny that is constantly in motion to keep up with her and her line AND the dog now become hazards to all others on the court.
There must be another way for Jenny to play basketball with her tank sans the dog. Why can she not have it attached to her using a harness or two? Where there's a will, ther IS a way. This lawsuit is doing nothing but demonstrating to Jenny that she doesn't have to augment situations to acheive her goals..... just sue somebody. It's just ridiculous...
I don't understand this any more than the family does. Someone from Special Olympics should have come forward with a better explanation than the statement that was read. That having been said, I have another question. Why does she need the dog? I work in retail, and see a lot of people every day, some with oxygen tanks. They usually carry them in backpacks. Why can't she do that? There was mention of two other children already in Special Olympics programs who use oxygen tanks, but it was not said whether or not they also have service animals. I can't help but wonder if that's what the issue is here.
There is a risk in everything we do every day. Jenny's family have obviously done more then enough to limit any risk involving Jenny playing along side of her class mates. The Illinois special Olympics have allowed excessive caution to distract from their cause in this matter. And there is nothing special about that at all.
We should all give Jenny a big hug and cheer her efforts to fit in.
According to the handicap laws Special Olympics and the local School Board can not stop Jenny from playing sports. I have a nephew who is physically challenged and is currently playing high school football. I am physically challenged also, it is enough to know that we can't do things the same way others can but we can do them just in a different way. For someone who has not experienced our challenges and tell us we can't do things is another hurdle we must overcome. People like Jenny, my nephew and myself, WILL OVERCOME.
GOOD LUCK JENNY
I just watched the report. There is no reason whatsoever why Jenny would be excluded. It is rude to reject someone from an organization that is supposed to include people with disabilities and not even give a direct reason why not.
The Special Olympics is supposed to be about acceptance and including people, not rejecting them for no good reason.This is unfair.
This is typical of narrow minds. They ignore expert testimony that there is no safety issue here. It has to be ignorance on the part of the state of Illinois who needs to intervene here. It's also mind boggling that we have to fight for equal rights for the handicapped in 2010. Good luck with your suit, Jenny.
It's the Parents who cannot accept that Jenny will not be able to participate in every program throughout her life. Are the parents going to sue everyone throughout Jenny's life? A lawsuit against the Special Olympics is wrong. Get a life Parents.
I think she should be included only if her parents will sign a consent stating the Olympics will not be responsible for any injury or death that may result of her participation in the sports and that the family cannot sue the Special Olympics. As a medical professional lay persons only see the simplicity and not the complications that can result from this innocent request.
I understand the Special Olympic committee decision perfectly. A player and a dog with 5 feet of separation and a tube between them running unpredictably (at least for the dog) in an area the size of a basketball court is a danger for _everyone_else_ on the court. Unfortunate for Jenny but it's not about her, it's about the safety of everyone else. That's _exactly_ what the statement for the Special Olympics group said, the family has just _chosen_ not to hear.
I met Jenny and her family when she joined our Girl Scout troop as a Brownie. I know first-hand what the Youngwith family is asking for. I never felt the girls, or our program, were compromised because of Jenny's disabilities. Janice, my co-leader and always worked together to insure Jenny was involved in a meaningful way. And, yes, there were times when Janice would determine that Jenny could not participate in an activity – and it was okay with her! But what made me the most proud were the girls themselves. Often when Jenny wasn't part of a planned activity they would ask, "What about Jenny?". They never forgot about their "Sister Scout". The point I am making is, if middle school girls can figure it out, why can't Special Olympics Illinois?
Oxygen does not burn. It supports combustion. It does not have a flash point
The Youngwith's should continue to pursue the lawsuit. To not do so might set a precedent: allowing individual states to make their own rules will certainly result in a vision much different than what Eunice Shriver intended. The ruling should come from the Special Olympics through the Kennedy Foundation, not from individual states. Why doesn't the Illinois branch reach out to other states to find out what accomodations (if any) needed to be made for other individuals like Jenny. Obviously, it can be done.
This is so easy to solve it's ridiculous, how can we send men and women down in the ocean in highly compresses suits made of aluminum, and titanium to the depths of 1 mile, but these organization fail to take the slightest act to help a little girl get a light weight tank that weighs less than five pounds so that she can carry it on her own on the basketball floor, so that it does not restrict her movement, and it does not put other in danger. Like I said this is easy to solve, but when your whole purpose is not to advance you do everything that you can to stop other from advancing too! We use to be a can to nation now we are a why should we try nation!
The dog and oxygen tank are Jenny's wheelchair.
Thanks Kyra for drawing attention to this.
I feel Dee said every thing I had to say.
How sad it is that the very organization that is supposed to provide opportunities and accommodation for people with special needs is now excluding people based on their chosen accommodation.
Jenny, keep up your courage and enthusiam, we're keeping you in our prayers that you will be allowed to play basketball!!!!! keep up your good work!!!!
Well this doesn't surprise me, I myself have a 27 yr old son with an intellectual disability that has participated in Special Olympics for several years. He was chosen for Team Louisiana in the 2010 National Games for Special Olympics held in Lincoln Nebraska. Unfortunately he was scratched from the team and sent home after 2 days because of not listening to authority when he purchased a sierra mist in a vending machine instead of water or sports drink as instructed. Our family, my husband and three children, traveled by car to Lincoln, 15 hrs, for the events and my son flew out of New Orleans with Specail Olympics Louisiana. When director and president of Special Olympics Louisiana called me to pick up Asthon I asked if he could stay with us at our hotel and bring him to events to compete, she said no. I explained to her that we had limited room in our car with the three children, and luggage and asked if Special Olympics could fly him home, she said no again. We feel these were unnecessary and extreme measures taken after all the hard work and preparation my son put in for a dream that never became reality. I like others thought Special Olympics worked with the special needs of the atheletes, that is the impression they give to the public when getting donations to put these events on. I've seen a tremendous amount of good being done, but they aren't as trained as they claim, if they were my son would not have returned home with a bruise on his arm from where one of their coaching staff grabbed him.
I feel that a major fact is being over looked, the oxygen tank isn't the primary limiting factor in this case. For the Special Olympics and for Jenny the major problem with this case is the use of the dog. The examples given about the other children that participate in sports with oxygen tanks had one thing in common (at least from what was reported) the athletes were responsible for transporting their oxygen tank on their own. Dogs can be unpredictable and over protective because of these traits to allow Jenny to have the dog on the court during gameplay would not only make things potentially unsafe for other participants but could also completely change the way the game is played for special olympics competitors. Basketball is a game played with 10 people on the court whether each individual player has a oxygen tank or not doesn't affect the game but when it comes down to 10 people and a few dogs to aid the players then this begins to complicate the actual game making it less fun and more difficult. A solution to this is that Jenny and her mother simply realize that for her to be allowed to have a dog on the court would make it so anyone else could which would then take away from the fun and safety that other children are having. The best thing for them to do is drop the lawsuit and to take a less selfish route and modify a backpack so she can carry her oxygen tank without the use of the dog.
The mere fact that Jenny has been playing six years with her special ed team at Northern Illinois University illustrates that she is capable of performing the sport. It is my understanding that she is NOT requesting to play basketball with a high school team of fully able-bodied players in the usual highly competitve field of standard high school athletics. Rather, she is requesting to play with other special needs players for Special Olympics. Such teams include players like my sister who has Down syndrome, as well as other physical or mental limitations.
One can see that her oxygen tank is not exposed on her service dog and that Simba is well-trained. I believe the Special Olympics Committee of Illinois should be able to accommodate Jenny as the whole purpose of the Special Olympics is to give special needs people a chance to compete. The safety of others competing with her is, of course, vital, but it has been proven that Jenny & Simba can compete safely in the sport already. Tthe Special Olympics personnel should at least observe Jenny playing basketball with others before they arbitrarily reject her particpation.
Can we please see video of Jenny with her dog playing basketball ?
Since they have already p0layed for 6 years,
May we please see video of Jenny with her dog playing basketball?
Since they have already played for 6 years, for goodness sake let them play !!!!!!
If Jenny were allowed to compete and the dog had run off with the oxygen and Jenny suffered harm CNN would be airing a story lambasting the Special Olympics for allowing such an un-safe practice.
Despite the Special Olympic's anyone-can-do-anything attitude, which is admirable, unfortunately there are uncrossable boundaries. Someone in a wheel chair will never be able to run a 5K, and someone who's connected to a dog (that's in turn connected to a metal tube) and running around with nine other people is simply too many moving parts.
The special Olympics is a private organization. They have the right to discriminate. If world vision can say you have to be christian, or private groups can exclude homosexuals, then why should we be so up in arms? Oh yeah kids sell!
Who the heck sues Special Olympics? I am glad these parents are such strong advocates for their child, but they need to re-prioritize. There are plenty of other places where a lawsuit would help an organization that has not become inclusive to open itself to everyone. Don't sue Special Olympics. That is self-defeating.
Can the special olympics make some concessions? Can she be a designated free throw shooter? The designated player to throw the ball in for play?
I think Jenny can play in that game, because that is a "Special Olympics", but her parents have a responsibility to everything that might happen to her.
Its very unfortunante that Jenny was not allowed to play but you have to take in mind the saftey of other. There are rules written and you cannot try to change them. A dog on the court is a real hazard, the dog is carrying a metal tank and she has a tube the dog could hit someone, someone could step on her breathing tube. I understand Jennys frustration but there are risks involed. Sorry Jenny.
I have to agree with the Special Olympics. You cannot risk the safety of others for one player. You cannot have five feet of tubing between her and a dog and expect that another child will see it. It truly is a safety concern for all of the other children. Also, the parents of those children should not have to worry about the safety of their child for one other child. If there is a way that Jenny could "wear" the oxygen tank (maybe a smaller version that could be substituted out when necessary) it would not be as much of a concern. Another question would be: What did they do prior to this dog?
I honestly believe that if Jenny has played for six years already without any injury to ANYONE, what makes this any different. I know several people who participate in our local Special Olympics and as the attorney stated there are other states that have team members playing with disabilities that require oxygen. She should not be told she can't..it is very discouraging to be told that because of your differences you can't do this, that is the purpose of the special olympics is to give opportunities to special needs kids. Its discriminatory, I wish Jenny the best of luck on her journey. She is truly an inspiration to others both in her fight to get an equal opportunity to participate in something she loves as well as living day by day and overcoming her disability. To be honest, telling Jenny because of her differences she cannot participate is like telling someone in a wheelchair that they cannot participate because they have a wheelchair.
I feel bad for this young lady but the basketball teams she has been playing with are use to her and her dog but the teams she will be playing are not and what if a child on a opposing team has a fear of dogs. Who sits out?
I forgot to mention what if there is a child alergic to dogs.
This is not fair to the rest of the kids theres no way they can win a game with this handicap Jenny should just cheer them on .
You forgot to tell us the reason Special Olympics said she couldn't play.
Okay, first off lets address the dog and the tank. The dog is necessary because of the weight of the tank. Jenny can't carry the tank because the added weight while RUNNING up and down the court will put a greater strain on her cardio vascular system, hence, making it counter productive!
As far as the greater DANGER the dog and tank pose to other atheletes, what greater danger?
A. The dog is trained service dog and poses no threat.
B. The atheletes can and do already bump into each other or fall or get tangled up with one another, all of which pose just as great of a potential for injury!
C. Oxygen is NOT explosive, and yes although it will support combustion poses no threat unless exposed to open flame. How many of the atheletes will be smoking on the court?
D. Yes, I konw the tank is under pressure and thats where the DOG comes in again! The dog has a ultra safe and ultra secure carrying system for the tanks which makes it safer than if Jenny carried it herself or her Mother ran up and down the court with her. THE DOG WILL DO IT'S JOB AND NOT WATCH THE GAME or BE DISTRACTED!
E. Don't wheelchairs that can run over toes or run into other atheletes and motorized scooters with explosive batteries pose as great of a potential for injury!
Most importantly, the Special Olympics is about OVER COMMING CHALLENGES!!!! That's what they should do.OVERCOME and ADAPT in order to find a way for Jenny to compete!!!
Shame on their Lawyers and Insurance Companies!!! Shame on the Specail Olympics for listening to them! There are plenty of other blood sucking attorneys and insurance companies that would gladly take them on as clients!!! I bet their phone is already ringing off the hook!!!!
Well put Kevin!
I am outraged by this! We too are having difficulty with my daughter's school. She is 10 years old and has received a service dog that alert's us up to 1 1/2 hours prior to having a grand mal seizure. Just this past Sunday, Taxi alerted me to get her out of the pool...15 minutes thereafter, she was lying on the floor convulsing. My daughter's school, Kuentz Elementary in Helotes, thinks having Taxi in their school is inconvenient. They don't even want him in the school, much less participate in any activities. They have actually told us they don't think he is "necessary" for her. It astounds me that these organizations can do this to our special children. Talk about discrimination at it's finest!!! I can't tell you the stress my family, and especially our daughter, has endured since the end of last year when they kicked her dog out of school. We have had to go as far as filing due process with the courts and STILL don't have it resolved. They have dragged their feel all summer and are trying to set her up for failure as far as we're concerned. They certainly have zero regards for her feelings or well-being. And to think of all organizations, Special Olympics is discriminating. This is just unfathomable!
This was reprehensible and deserves the lawsuit that has been filed by Jenny's parents. I just finished sending an email to the Illinois Special Olympics telling them what I thought of whomever the ignorant person/persons was who made this appalling decision.
I hope that the Youngwiths' win their lawsuit. Go Jenny, Go. You are beautiful and can do anything you set your mind to, Sweetie 😉
Jenny's family will lose this. The law clearly states that access can legally be denied when it creates a public safety hazard, such as others tripping over a dog on a basketball court or tripping over breathing equipment on a basketball court.
I'm sure that if Jenny played with her equipment and somebody got hurt because of it and their parents sued Jenny, her family would not be happy! And they would not be happy if somebody caused Jenny injury when the somebody tripped over her equipment, either! Would they try suing that person, which would be utterly ridiculous?!
As a fellow disabled person and fellow service dog user, I know there are limitations to what I can do and I accept them. Life isn't fair and we all need to understand that and get over it instead of being selfish. Equal access is completely different from situations like Jenny's.
I'm sure the team can utilize her in some way as a cheerleader on the sidelines, a trainer, a helper, a manager, a scorekeeper, etc. that will keep Jenny and everybody else safe.
I've known Jenny since the 3rd grade. She has always done whatever she set her mind to. She is also one of the sweetest people i know. To not let her play is unfair! The Special Olympics are there for the people who can't play in regular sports and turring Jenny away is hypocritical. They don't even have a real reason to not let her play! I feel bad for her and her family that have to go through this.
I have been going to school with Jenny since first grade. We are now seniors, she has carried oxygen always. She and Simba have been together a VERY long time (5ish years) , and he is extremely healthy. He has been trained to keep up with Jenny, do what she does, and he leaves other students alone ( as service dogs should). We are not a special needs school, but our special needs basketball team is open to any special needs student ( except Jenny). Nearly every student in our school feels this is unacceptable. Jenny can keep up with all of the students she plays against, and other than being a fantastic athlete despite her conditions, she is also a fantastic person. Our school is lucky to have her, and her wonderful family.
Also, as Kevin has stated, wheelchairs could possibly cause the same problems Simba could. If students with Service dogs were not allowed to play, then students with wheelchairs should not be allowed to play either.
I have read this article about Jenny and her "fight" with SO to be allowed to play.
She has played before and I understand from this story there didn't seem to be a problem her playing with her special ed team. My daughter played in the SO with her basketball team but because of her disabilities, she and other members played "handball" with other teams. she has also participated in track doing "power walking ".
Jenny, you have learned to adapt, so SO why can't you? Let her play!
Like any organization that deals with sports, insurance. If the girl dies playing they will be sued. If she does not get to play they sue. I did not get to play sports my senior year of high school because of my cancer treatment. I could have gotten an infection and died. She loses her oxygen she could die. She may play a little too long without oxygen and not know she is in trouble until it's too late. Sue them because they want a safe sport for everyone. On impact, some O2 tanks will explode.......
Doctors, coaches, teachers, and the others he quoted states it okay for her to play but he probably kept out the ones who stated it could be dangerous. Safety concerns trumps ADA.
My take is that the Special Olympics has a new trend of frowning at people with disabilities who have service animals. Their message seems to be "You have to be dependent on another human being if you wish to participate in the Special Olympics". Service animals are bold symbols of independence and I think the Special Olympics needs a hard lesson on accommodating service animals.
I can't believe that anyone can side with the Special Olympics on this one. I don't think that in the history of the Special Olympics anyone has ever had a bad thing to say about it, but this is ridiculous. I can understand their reasoning, but I think they could have worked this out before a lawsuit and CNN had to get involved. Would she be allowed to play if her mother carried her tank instead of the dog? Would she be allowed to play if everyone on the court had a service dog? How about any other sport? If the Special Olympics wants to retain any sort of positive reputation they not only should bend over backwards to resolve this, but also make sure Jenny's team wins!
I have Cerebral Palsy, I use a service dog. My dog is my vital lifeline to living my life. He is trained in seizure alert and spastic alert. He pulls me in my wheelchair and he forces me to be social. Without him, life would be incredibly difficult. I am completely disgusted by what the SO has done to this young woman and her family. I can't wrap my head around why they would be so blatant in their denial. I've been to SO events with my dog and I've had no problems. I'm not an SO athelete but I do go to assist and volunteer when I can. (I used to volunteer and help coach the Greenlake Eagles SO swim team.) I hope that there is a speedy resolution and that Jenny, her oxygen tank and her dog can be out there on the court soon!
Seems like a slanted story to me. Oh, yea the special olimpic people are excluding children with special needs for no valid reason, maybe they just don't like her disability. Give me a break.
My son, Nick has multiple physical and cognitive disabilites. He played basketball through Special Olympics for two years. However, when he turned 13 he would have had to move up to the 13 yrs to adult bracket. We decided it would not be safe for him or others for him to continue to play. My son also has issues with spatial awareness and frequently runs into and trips over things. This dog and any apparatus would be a hazard to him if he were playing.
Wheelchair athletes are not commingled with ambulatory athletes as they have different rules for the game and the potential for injury would be significant.
Kaya, Please ask your educcational consultant how retired principals can help improve education. Many of us share his philosophy of what is needed. He is old school and so are most of us. We know what is needed to improve students' learning. Other than volunteering in a neighborhood school, how can we help? We are the most knowledgable, under used group of professionals. Our skills are needed to improve education. I suggest the government have a Senior Principal Corp to go into schools as skilled consultants to assist the principal in improving students' learning.
I wish people would get a grip.
Any organizer, New York marathon or others, can legally reject entries when entries do not conform to organizers rules and regulations. The Tour de France accepts nobody without a helmet. If you can't wear a helmet because of a physical impairement, you are out of luck.
Be happy we have organizers for the physically impaired. They do a greeat job. Don't make life miserabel for them otherwise we will loose all the good volunteers.
I agree, lfe isn't fair and we all need to understand that and get over it instead of being selfish and making ridicolous demands. Rules are rules and they are there to be observed.