Inclusive Health

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 close to 300,000 health professionals and students to treat people with intellectual disabilities. Moreover, Special Olympics Programs have been able to expand their reach of Healthy Athletes, by offering 123,896 screenings since 2016 in new locations or in new disciplines. We offer health screenings in eight disciplines:

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

Despite a mistaken belief that people with intellectual disabilities receive the same or better health care than others, they typically receive sub-standard care or virtually no health care at all. For every ten athletes on a Special Olympics team:

  • 2 have never had an eye exam
  • 4 need a new prescription for glasses
  • 2 have potential hearing loss
  • 4 have untreated tooth decay and 1–2 are in need of urgent dental care
  • 2–3 have low bone density
  • 6 are overweight or obese and at risk for chronic health conditions
  • 5 have problems with strength and 6 have problems with flexibility, placing them at risk for injury
  • 5 have at least one kind of skin or nail condition

The impact of these screenings on the health and wellness of Special Olympics athletes around the world is significant. Healthy Athletes has discovered undetected health problems, alleviated pain and provided health services that otherwise would not be available.

Healthy Athletes is not only a program for athletes but, through training and hands-on experience at screenings, it is a program for healthcare students and professionals to increase knowledge of best practices in caring for and communicating with people with intellectual disabilities.

Notably, trained health care providers demonstrate improved awareness and self-efficacy in providing care for and communicating with patients with ID after completing training:

  • 72% of trainees strongly agree that they are confident in their ability to provide health services to people with ID
  • 74% of trainees strongly agree that they are confident in their ability to match their communication style to the literacy level of different patients
  • Nearly 100% of trainees reported that they plan to provide follow-up care to athletes with referrals

For additional information:

Learn how to work with people with intellectual disabilities in a healthcare setting: learn.specialolympics.org

Join the more than 90,000 health care providers and students worldwide who have volunteered with the Healthy Athletes program.
Articles about Healthy Athletes
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) support work that improves the overall health and quality of life for people living with disabilities, including those with intellectual disabilities.
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Special Olympics is proud to be an inaugural partner of Mental Health Action Day and to promote Strong Minds tools that can help athletes improve their emotional wellness.
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Special Olympics Latin America launches Mission Moment: Inclusive Health!
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