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Community Impact

Special Olympics is Leaving No One Behind

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

This story originally appeared in the Global Handwashing Partnership website.

As the world rallies around Global Handwashing Day, it is important to bring awareness to those who face barriers and challenges around hygiene and handwashing. Although access to safe water and sanitation is a right included in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), it is widely accepted that people with disabilities face particular challenges accessing safe water and sanitation. Not only are people with intellectual disabilities (ID) at increased risk of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related disease, they are also less likely to receive the necessary treatment and care because of limited access to water and sanitation resources, poor access to appropriate health and WASH education and physical and structural barriers. However, despite progress, people with ID still face stigma, discrimination, social isolation and injustice every day of their lives. They are routinely ignored or excluded by society, and in many cultures little or no value is placed on their worth or abilities. This inequality in terms of access to safe water and hygiene practices is an unjust life-and-death risk for people with ID.

Hygiene is a basic right and should be available and accessible to ALL.

At the core, Special Olympics is a global sports organization that uses the power of sport as a catalyst for social change. The organization highlights how the needs of people with ID are not being met, including promoting access to equitable health care services. Special Olympics is the largest public health outreach effort for people with ID in the world.

In honor of Global Handwashing Day, Special Olympics is joining efforts to share the importance of handwashing education and to also remind those engaging in handwashing activities to not leave anyone behind!

Special Olympics, in partnership with organizations including Catholic Relief Services, Speak up Africa and UNICEF and governments, is striving to empower people with ID to be their own self-advocates by bringing awareness to proper handwashing education and highlighting available resources. Handwashing education has been a core element of health promotion programming of Special Olympics. In more than 130 countries, Special Olympics offers on-site health screenings where volunteers examine, educate, and provide referrals to people with ID. Special Olympics offers handwashing education as part of these screenings. You will know you have walked into one of these health screenings when you hear people singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in their respective languages while practicing how to wash their hands! The poster we use for these screenings can be found here. You can see the proper handwashing steps in action, presented by Special Olympics athlete, board member and Health Messenger, Nyasha Derera:

Proper Hand Washing Techniques
Special Olympics athletes have skills and abilities beyond sports. In a new Expert Tip video series, athletes share their know-how on a range of helpful and popular topics.

Special Olympics is working in schools and community organizations to ensure handwashing education techniques are accessible and inclusive of people with ID. But, there is so much more to be done. Special Olympics encourages every organization, government, educator and community member to lead or provide handwashing education, services and resources that are inclusive of people with ID. Everyone must do their part to ensure those with ID are included and given access to this basic human right. No one should be left behind.

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