Special Olympics Providing Free Health Screenings to More Than 7,000 People with Intellectual Disabilities

By Rebecca Simon MPH SOI: Special Olympics Healthy Athletes®, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is offering free health screenings and health education to all 7,500 athletes competing in the 2019 Special Olympics World Games in seven disciplines: optometry, dentistry, audiology, podiatry, physical therapy and fitness, health promotion, and emotional well-being.

Some of the volunteer health care professionals will be trained by Special Olympics in a two-day Train-the-Trainer program on 11-12 March.

In a ribbon cutting ceremony on 13 March at 1:30pm, athletes, unified partners, and volunteers will be formally welcomed to Healthy Athletes by:

Mohamad Hamad Al Hameli, Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Health
Dr. Michelle Funk, World Health Organization

Ann Costello, Executive Director, Golisano Foundation
Aruna Abhey Oswal, Trustee of the Lions Clubs International Foundation and founder of the Aruna Abhey Oswal Trust

Ibtihaj Muhammad, US Olympic bronze medalist fencer
Mary Davis, CEO Special Olympics International

Hanna Atkinson, Special Olympics Health Messenger
Zalikha Almansoori, Special Olympics UAE athlete

Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 is the largest sports and social inclusion event on the planet — advancing a world of full inclusion for people with ID in sports, physical activity, education, health, and leadership.

“Since 1997, Special Olympics has provided over 2 million free health screenings to our athletes,” said Mary Davis, Chief Executive Officer of Special Olympics.

“Because of barriers in accessing care within national health systems, people with ID don’t have universal access to health. Healthy Athletes is the spark that started moving health systems to become inclusive of people with ID. In over 20 years, we have changed lives, mobilized communities, and strengthened entire health systems.”

People with intellectual disabilities face significant challenges accessing quality health care, resulting in pronounced health disparities and reduced life expectancy.

The goal of Special Olympics is to facilitate the reform of health systems around the world to improve access to health for 11 million individuals with intellectual disabilities by 2020.

According to data compiled by Special Olympics, globally:
38% of athletes have untreated tooth decay
57% have skin/nail conditions
23% have never had an eye exam and 26% needed new prescription lenses
41% have blocked or partially blocked ear canal and 23% failed a hearing test

27% of adult athletes have low bone density
62% of adult athletes are overweight or obese
65% have flexibility problems, 65% have strength problems, and 69% have balance problems

When people with ID have access to health services, they also have more opportunities for education, employment, sports, and other pathways to reach full participation in society.

Special Olympics trains health care providers and students in using adapted screening protocols and in communicating effectively with people with ID. Providers take these skills back to their practices and provide higher quality health care to people with ID – not just SO athletes – in their communities.

Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is creating a world where people with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to be healthy.

The organization’s goal is to improve access to quality health for 11 million people with ID.

Following the ribbon cutting ceremony, speakers and other high-ranking health leaders will gain firsthand insight in to the practical training of student and professional health workers by touring Special Olympics Healthy Athletes screenings.

Participants will also be given the opportunity to peruse the newly launched Center for Inclusive Health website and Special Olympics Online Training Portal with educational, interactive courses for coaches and health professionals.

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