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Press Releases

Special Olympics & IHRSA Partner to Improve Inclusivity within the Fitness Industry

Athletes squatting and working out in a gym.
IHRSA logo that reads: The Global Health & Fitness Association

Washington, D.C.—March 6, 2023—Special Olympics and IHRSA, the Global Health & Fitness Association, have partnered to build awareness and capacity within the fitness industry to support the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities (ID). IHRSA and Special Olympics will focus on increasing inclusive fitness opportunities within communities globally to support people with ID in leading an active and healthy life.

The mission of IHRSA is to grow, promote, and protect the health and fitness industry, and to provide its members with the benefits that will help them be more successful. IHRSA and its members—health and fitness clubs, gyms, studios, sports and aquatic facilities, and industry partners—are dedicated to making the world healthier through regular exercise.

IHRSA, the IHRSA Foundation, and its members have long been committed to inclusion. The IHRSA Foundation’s mission is to promote health through exercise by expanding education and resources, research and engagement. Jointly with the American Council on Exercise, the IHRSA Foundation was awarded a 2020 Special Olympics Inclusive Health Innovation Grant. The project focused on supporting and facilitating the inclusion of people with ID in fitness and sport and resulted in the following resources:

  1. Strategies to Expand Inclusion of People with Intellectual Disabilities in the Fitness Community
    • Shares key findings from a survey of 306 Special Olympics athletes regarding attitudes and perspectives on gym use
    • Provides a list of strategies gyms can take to meet the needs of people with ID based upon survey research
    • Explains the role of health and fitness centers in promoting inclusive fitness
  2. SMASH IT! An Inclusive Small Group Training Program Template
    • Developed by staff at the UNESCO Chair in Inclusive Sport, Fitness, Recreation, and PE, this template provides eight weeks or 24 sessions of programming that is appropriate for people with and without disabilities.

As part of this partnership, Special Olympics and IHRSA will disseminate the IHRSA Inclusive Fitness Toolkit to Special Olympics Programs, educate Special Olympics Program staff on how to partner with local fitness centers, and foster connections between IHRSA members and local Special Olympics Programs. Ultimately, this partnership will increase opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to engage in physical activity by increasing access and inclusion in fitness centers globally.

"Partnering with Special Olympics is a positive step for the global health and fitness industry. This collaborative relationship will help ensure that IHRSA advocates to key government officials around the world about the importance and benefits of inclusive programs for those with disabilities. In addition, our partnership will help IHRSA provide gyms, studios, and supplier partners with resources and information about best practices to support their own inclusion and community engagement programs.”
Liz Clark, IHRSA President & CEO

Special Olympics and IHRSA are excited to engage in their next partner activation at IHRSA 2023 in San Diego, CA, March 20 – 22. Special Olympics Fitness will discuss no-cost strategies that fitness professionals can use to promote inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in their gyms.

“Special Olympics is excited to partner with IHRSA to promote the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities within the fitness industry. People with intellectual disabilities deserve every opportunity to engage in physical activity and improve their health and fitness. This partnership will help achieve this by preparing fitness professionals and leaders to meet the fitness needs of people with intellectual disabilities globally.”
Annemarie Hill, Senior Vice President, Global Health Operations

Special Olympics and IHRSA encourage fitness professionals to read the aforementioned available resources, incorporate them into their gym’s practices, and to reach out to to learn more about how gyms can promote inclusive fitness principles.

About Special Olympics

Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Unified Sports partners and one million coaches and volunteers in over 200 accredited Programs, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedInand our blog on Medium. Learn more at

Media Contact

Lilia Carasciuc

Special Olympics International
Director, Global Health Communications