TEDxVancouver speaker & Special Olympics athlete Matthew Williams

Image: Matthew Williams competing at the 2012 Special Olympics Canada Winter Games.
Image: Jonathan Evans /

TEDx Vancouver 2015 welcomed over 20 speakers – from breakdancers, journalists to transgender rights advocates – filling the day with inspiration, education and dialogue.

A memorable speaker receiving two standing ovations and one of the loudest cheers from the crowd was Special Olympics Athlete Matthew Williams. He spoke about living with intellectual disabilities and turning them into triumphs as a Special Olympics athlete.

“It’s an incredible feeling to have that response from the crowd, you always hope that the speech that you are delivering really relates to people and that they really take in what you’re speaking about,” says Williams.

He explains his childhood was filled with a number of challenges, “I was born with epilepsy and intellectual disabilities … I also had some learning challenges so school was always tough … just being always a little bit behind or taking longer than the other kids.”

In Grade 8, Williams was placed in a special education program where he was approached about Special Olympics, the world’s largest organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities providing training to 4.5 million athletes.

“It really opened up a lot of doors for me because it showed me that there are other individuals like me … and really made me feel a part of something,” says Williams.

Image: Matthew Williams competing at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

Williams has since filled a long list of accomplishments: He competed in the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in basketball winning fourth place, he is a member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, and chairs the Global Athlete Congress, which discusses the goals of the movement and ensures the voices of athletes are heard.

As a global messenger for those with intellectual disabilities, Williams wants children with disabilities to know they have support, “it is going to get better and there are lots of resources out there and Special Olympics was for me.”

William wants youth to know that being different isn’t a bad thing, “I think different is unique … look at using different as an ability, don’t look at it as a negative, look at it as a positive and it can get you ahead in life.”

Image: Special Olympics BC

Special Olympics trains athletes year-round in 170 different countries and runs local, national and regional competitions with about 100,000 events annually.

Special Olympics BC began 30 years ago and currently provides sports programs and competitions in 57 communities around the province. There are 4,300 Special Olympics athletes in BC and more than 3,000 volunteers.

Special Olympics Surrey programs are open to people with intellectual disabilities to increase fitness levels, develop individual and teams skills, and promote sportsmanship and fair play.

Special Olympics Surrey welcomes athletes and volunteers throughout the year provided that there is room in the programs – official registration is held in August of every year.

For more information on programs and how to register visit:

Blake Sebastian entered the Film and Television industry at the age of 17. Now in his mid-twenties, he has been involved in radio, lifestyle/reality TV shows and factual docu-series. Blake has been involved in over a dozen different shows and holds a two-year diploma in Broadcast Journalism from BCIT.