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New York, NY – Gait trainers and adaptive tricycles – those will be some of the equipment students at the International Academy of Hope (iHOPE), a highly specialized traumatic brain injury school serving young people in Midtown Manhattan, will use to participate in the school’s 8th annual Summer Olympics. The festivities will take place at iHOPE’s brand-new 85,000 square feet location at 825 Seventh Avenue at the corner of W 53rd Street from August 1 to August 12.

Assistive technology is a fundamental part of the students' education and helps them communicate through a variety of ways and functionally use their arms and legs. Accessible and alternative communication devices, adapted ambulation equipment, and robotic walkers are integrated throughout the school's curriculum, giving students greater agency. During the Summer Olympics, students will use a number of assistive devices adapted to their individual needs so they can take part in the activities during the day.

The two-week event will kick off on Monday, August 1 at 12 pm with the opening ceremony, which will include students carrying a torch through all three floors of the state-of-the-art school and a musical introduction by West Point Band. This year’s theme is “Protect The Wildlife,” and each floor of the school will be dedicated to a different habitat such as the jungle, savannah, and arctic.

"iHOPE Summer Olympics is very close to my heart. It is one of the reasons I'm here. It is an accomplishment that we celebrate with our students,” said Cristina Belarmino, iHOPE’s Director of Physical Therapy. “Everyone's hard work pays off when you see smiles everywhere. It is not the competition that matters but the encouragement and motivation that everyone shows for the students."

Each day, iHOPE students will participate in a series of sports activities (one in the morning, one in the afternoon) showcasing the skills and abilities that they worked hard to develop throughout the year. The events were thoughtfully developed by staff, to make sure students can safely and actively participate. Rolling, walking, soccer, basketball, obstacle courses, and a variety of fine motor skills will all be on display. Students will also perform a special floor routine "dance" competition to a song of their choice.

On August 1, the school will also host its first equipment exposition where vendors are invited to show the latest equipment on the market to parents and staff.

“The kids we serve are all unique in their body sizes and shapes and in the ways they move around and communicate,” said Paula Chang, one of iHOPE’s Physical Therapists. “The expo is valuable for us so that both providers and families can be introduced to and be aware of the many designs of all kinds of equipment so we can select the ones that will best suit the child's specific needs.”

Tripling in size, the school relocated in April from its home in West Harlem to the new location. In addition to offering a range of education and therapy services under one roof, the larger facility allows students to benefit from a literacy-rich curriculum that incorporates multidisciplinary and collaborative models including cognitive strategies, small group instruction, assistive technology, therapeutic intervention, behavior management, physical rehabilitation, social interaction, and transition services.

iHOPE is part of YAI, which offers a comprehensive range of services to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 2013, the school fulfills the unmet needs of students with traumatic brain injuries in the community while serving as a model of best practices in the delivery of special education services.

Kamana Shrestha

ABOUT YAI: Founded in 1957, YAI remains at the forefront of an extraordinary movement aimed at empowering people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. YAI and its network of affiliate agencies offer children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities a comprehensive range of services. YAI is committed to seeing beyond disability, providing opportunities for people to live, love, work, and learn in their communities. YAI’s 4,000 employees provide supportive housing, education, medical, dental, and mental health care, job training, community integration, and social enrichment for more than 20,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and their families, in New York, New Jersey, and California.