Experts in disability and global health and development gathered last week to put their experience and insights to work in driving a global agenda for creating a world of inclusive health for everyone – including people with disabilities. Special Olympics, through the support of the Golisano Foundation, convened this session with experts in the disability and global development fields to hear some of the critical thinking and recommended urgent next steps needed to raise, on a global scale, the issue of the gross health injustices faced by people with disabilities and in particular people with intellectual disabilities, and the need to create inclusive communities of health for everyone. Special Olympics is a global sports organization and movement for inclusion and social justice focused on people with intellectual disabilities (ID). As part of its social justice mission, it is the largest public health organization in the world focused on people with ID. For the last 16 years, it has worked tirelessly to promote the health and well-being of people with ID through providing free health examinations, training health providers, influencing government policy, and supporting the 4.4 million Special Olympics athletes and others with ID to embrace good health. With the launch of Healthy Communities in 2012 with a gift of $12 million from Tom Golisano, the organization has been furthering its health work and striving to lead the charge in making inclusive health a priority for all stakeholders and individuals by bringing together civil society and governments across the world.
Gathered at UNICEF Headquarters in New York City were Rosangela Berman Bieler, Chief, Disability Section, and Antonia Antonopoulos, Partnerships Manager, Civil Society Partnerships, both of UNICEF; Eric Emerson, Professor of Disability and Health Research, Lancaster University, Centre for Disability Research; Muriel Mac-Seing, Head of Prevention and health Unit, Handicap International and Human Rights Reference Group Member at The Global Fund; John Oldfield, CEO, WASH Advocates; and Kate Campana, CEO, Speak Up Africa. Ann Costello, Director of The Golisano Foundation, which generously funds Special Olympics Health and in particular its Healthy Communities initiative, and Jean Dalmath, President of Dalmath Associates also attended. Siddharth Chatterjee, Country Representative, Kenya, UNFPA moderated the discussion, and Special Olympics CEO Janet Froetscher and other Special Olympics senior staff were present.
Chatterjee led the group through Special Olympics Future Health Programming strategy which centered around strategies, successful practices and lessons learned from the 16 year history of Special Olympics Health programming regarding improving health care access, health status, fitness, well-being, and social inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
In terms of next steps, Special Olympics will finalize a strategic blueprint to mobilize and engage governments, organizations and members of society to create inclusive health communities around the world. The organization is planning ways to bring together leaders across the world to impact social change in a way that removes the health disparities people with disabilities face every day. The goal is inclusive health for everyone and it will take a multi-sectorial approach to achieve this. The time is now and transformational change and growth is urgent.