As people across the globe recognize World Health Day today, Special Olympics will begin expanded health programming for people with intellectual disabilities, a population that lacks access to adequate healthcare and faces significant health disparities. This new programming is made possible through a $25-million commitment to Special Olympics from the Golisano Foundation. Special Olympics’ is working toward the tipping point for inclusive health for people with intellectual disabilities.
People with intellectual disabilities are part of one of the largest and most medically undeserved disability groups in the world. Millions with intellectual disabilities lack access to quality health care and experience dramatically higher rates of preventable disease, chronic pain and suffering, and premature death in every country around the world. In developing and developed countries alike, people with intellectual disabilities are consistently one of the most marginalized population subsets – a status that comes with horrific health outcomes. A 2013 United Kingdom study found that people with intellectual disabilities were more than twice as likely to die before the age of 50 than the general population. Barriers that contribute to this include stigma and discrimination, insufficient or lack of health care provider training, over-attributing symptoms to a particular condition which results in conditions being untreated and undiagnosed, limited prevention education reaching this population, limited self-advocacy, cultural beliefs, increased poverty and poor enforcement of laws and policy to protect this population. For example, one Special Olympics study found that 52 percent of medical school deans and 56 percent of students reported that graduates were “not competent” to treat people with intellectual disabilities.
Over the past 19 years Special Olympics has grown to become the largest global public health organization specifically focused on people with intellectual disabilities. Led by the Golisano Foundation’s support, and that of other organizations globally and locally including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Special Olympics is making strides for ensuring inclusive health and working with corporations, organizations, universities, hospitals, and health care professionals to do more to ensure people with intellectual disabilities are not excluded from the health care systems within their communities.
Since 1997, Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, also supported by Golisano, has been providing free examinations and education for people with intellectual disabilities across the areas of audiology, dentistry, health promotion, optometry physical exams, physical therapy and podiatry. The award-winning Healthy Athletes program and the more than 135,000 health care professionals trained on the specific health care concerns of people with intellectual disabilities have provided more than 1.6 million free examinations to Special Olympics athletes worldwide in more than 130 countries. Now, Special Olympics Programs are working toward a focus on year-round inclusive health programming – called Healthy Communities – that takes the tenets of the Healthy Athletes events and includes them into year-round programming opportunities for athletes. Special Olympics Program is working toward recognition as a Healthy Community.