The world changed in 2020. Isolation, fear, overloaded health systems, and food insecurity continue to plague the world through the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has especially made things difficult for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Significant health disparities have been further exacerbated for those with ID. Special Olympics Health has been working hard to address these disparities.
There are a number of barriers that prevent people with ID from accessing water and sanitation (WASH) resources. They include stigma, discrimination and physical access. Other barriers include poor access to appropriate health and WASH education. Very rarely is disability factored into WASH infrastructure designs. And when disability is considered, adaptations tend to primarily focus on the needs of people with mobility issues. Planning does not often consider the needs of people with ID. There is a need to tailor health literacy and education programs for people with ID. This group has one of the lowest rates of access to education in the world. As a result, people with ID may not receive critical education and resources. Education on the need to practice good hygiene needs to be understood by all, regardless of literacy levels.
Special Olympics is reaching people with ID and their families around the world with hand hygiene education. Innovative and virtual approaches to providing hand hygiene education have ramped up across Special Olympics Programs around the world since the pandemic began. In Japan, Special Olympics held an online fitness program, which included hand washing education. In Nicaragua, homes visits were conducted in Sebaco, Managua, Carazo and León. Families were trained on hygiene measures to be implemented in their homes and communities. In Lebanon, Special Olympics worked with Ministry of Health to distribute publications which included information about handwashing. In Kentucky, USA, Special Olympics athlete and Health Messenger, Tyler Griswold, has been leading virtual hand washing tutorials using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. In Texas, a physician from Baylor College of Medicine held a virtual COVID Q&A session for Special Olympics athletes, which covered handwashing. In Nigeria, text messaging has been used to reach Special Olympics athletes and families with important messages on how to protect their families. From these messages, Deborah Maiyak said “I taught my son Muisab Maiyaki to wash his hands or use hand sanitizer if we need to go outside and he has been very diligent in this hygienic practice and habit. Thank you Special Olympics Nigeria for remembering us at this crucial time.”
Much has been achieved in WASH programming over the past two decades. However, great disparities in access to water, hygiene and sanitation still exist. This pandemic has only made this problem worse. If one is to achieve Sustainable Development Goal #6, there is much to be done to reduce inequity among the poor as well as individuals and families of people with disabilities.
As today marks #Globalhandwashingday, this message is more important than ever before. Hand hygiene for all means we must educate and support ALL people. Especially those with intellectual disabilities. We must help them stay safe and protected from COVID-19 and other diseases.
Special Olympics believes in #handhygieneforall! Please join us in spreading this message and joining this effort!