Inclusive Health

A young girl is washing her hands from a  water jug and young children are around watching her.

Despite severe need and higher health risks, people with intellectual disabilities are often denied health services and die on average 16 years sooner than the general population.

Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, and in the United States in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is creating a world where people with intellectual disabilities have every opportunity to be healthy.

Inclusive health means people with ID are able to take full advantage of the same health programs and services available to people who do not have ID.

Our goal is to improve access to quality health care for 11 million people with ID. The changes required to reach this milestone have the potential to unlock health care and services for all people with ID worldwide. 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.

Impaired coping abilities and communication skills—common among people with ID—can mask health concerns. This can lead to a breakdown in the quality of health care and health education, for people with ID. Over the past two decades, Special Olympics has improved the health of people with ID around the world by collaborating with our athletes, health care providers, community organizations, universities, and governments.

Inclusive Health: Bridging the Gap

Healthy Athletes

In 1997, Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® began offering free health screenings and education to Special Olympics athletes in a welcoming, fun environment. Since then, we have delivered over 2 million free health screenings and trained more than 260,000 health professionals and students to treat people with intellectual disabilities. These providers take these skills back to their practices and provide higher quality health care to people with ID—not just Special Olympics athletes—in their communities. We offer health screening in eight areas:

  • MedFest (history and physical exam)
  • Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes (vision/eye disease)
  • Healthy Hearing (audiology)
  • Special Smiles (dentistry)
  • Health Promotion (prevention and nutrition)
  • Strong Minds (emotional health)
  • FUNfitness (physical therapy)
  • Fit Feet (podiatry)

Healthy Communities

Healthy Communities is a model Special Olympics program ensuring year-round access to health care and prevention programming. Special Olympics Programs receive Healthy Community recognition for efforts in creating year-round access to quality health care for people with ID. Through partnerships, fitness and wellness programs, and Special Olympics athlete leadership, we are paving the way for inclusive health. These are the current Special Olympics Programs recognized as Healthy Communities:

• Alaska • Czech Rep. • Netherlands • South Africa
• Arizona • Florida • New Jersey • Thailand
• Arkansas • Hawaii • Nigeria • Uganda
• Bangladesh • Ireland • North Carolina • Wisconsin
• Belgium • Kazakhstan • Ontario
• British Columbia • Kenya • Paraguay
• Chile • Mauritius • Peru
• China • Mexico • Poland
• Chinese Taipei • Missouri • Prince Edward Island
• Connecticut • Mongolia • Romania
• Costa Rica • Nebraska • Senegal

A Generous Donation

The record of success and benefit of Special Olympics’ Health led U.S. businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano to commit $12 million to expand Special Olympics’ health-related services and launch a new Healthy Communities initiative in 2012. In 2015, he and the Golisano Foundation committed an additional $25 million to grow Special Olympics Health.

Health Systems

To reach our goal of improving access to quality health services for 11 million people with ID around the world, we partner with health departments, ministries of health, and international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) in order to create sustainable health systems and services inclusive of all people with ID.


Staying physically active is an important part of training for sport and maintaining and improving overall health. The bridge between health and sports, fitness is optimal health and performance through adequate nutrition, hydration, and physical activity. We improve the fitness of our athletes by providing tailored tools (like the Fit5 Guide) for individuals, families, and Special Olympics Programs.

The Center for Inclusive Health

The Center for Inclusive Health, made possible by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a virtual hub for health care providers, fitness and wellness professionals, professional associations, and businesses to find resources to become more inclusive. The Center for Inclusive Health is a powerful tool to help ensure people with ID are included in mainstream health policies, laws, programs, services, training, research, and funding streams.

Begun in 2016, the Golisano Health Leadership Award honors those who fulfill the goals, values, and mission of Special Olympics health programs.