Special Olympics Chief Health Officer Responds to COVID-19 Outbreak

Dr. Alicia Bazzano Calls for Urgent Need for Training for Health Care Professionals and Access to Quality Care for People with Intellectual Disabilities

People with intellectual disabilities (ID) are one of the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19. However, the most important risk for people with ID is not the underlying condition, but the lack of access to health care. No group of people should be denied access—and that includes people with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities should get prevention, COVID-19 testing, ventilators/respirators, and safe at home quarantine, just like people without disabilities. And they simply aren’t getting that access. Open any newspaper across not only the United States, but in countries like Spain and the United Kingdom, and we are seeing stories revealing a surge of cases of COVID-19 for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, especially in group homes and care centers. Special Olympics New York President & CEO Stacy Hengsterman’s response to today’s New York Times story “'It’s Hit Our Front Door’: Homes for the Disabled See a Surge of COVID-19,” is a horrifying reminder that people with intellectual disabilities are not getting the treatment they need.

We are in 2020 not 1960. Reading this article saddens me to my core, but angers me more than anything. Special Olympics athletes have the right in the value of life. Every life matters, including the lives of people with intellectual disabilities
Loretta Claiborne, a lifelong athlete and Chief Inspiration Officer and Vice Chair, Board of Directors for Special Olympics

Everyone needs to do their part right now to fight this global pandemic. At Special Olympics, we are committed to doing everything possible to prevent COVID. We have cancelled all sport training and competition activities, and other activations involving our athletes, through 31 May 2020 around the world. We have armed our athletes with information on how to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19, including videos that speak to and feature our athletes. We have equipped athletes and families with at home resources, including fitness videos and stress reduction challenges to help them stay active.

In times of crisis, generalizations or stereotypes of a person’s diagnosis or disability cannot be used to determine care. Individual assessments must determine treatments—and those assessments should not be made based on bias or uninformed judgements. Our work to educate health care professionals is designed to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Health professionals are risking their lives and working hard to battle COVID-19, but over 80% of health care professionals have not been trained on how to treat someone with intellectual disabilities. We are creating a simple, online training for health care professionals on how to treat people with ID as it relates to COVID-19, for everyone from paramedics, to physicians, to nurses, to all frontline healthcare workers around the globe. We can, and all must to our part to save lives.