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Inclusive Health

Healthy Athletes

Three people wearing Healthy Athletes branded t-shirts and looking over a paper on a clipboard.

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:


Volunteer with Healthy Athletes

Join the more than 90,000 health care providers and students worldwide who have volunteered with the Healthy Athletes program.

Articles about Healthy Athletes

Special Olympics Dutch Caribbean Kingdom Games Create Legacy of Impact

A small 111-square mile island off the coast of South America became a part of Special Olympics history when Bonaire played host to the first-ever Special Olympics Dutch Caribbean Kingdom Games November 3-5.
4 Min Read

Special Olympics Shares Insights on Pursuing Health Equity at the 2023 American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting.

Special Olympics Missouri Athlete and Global Health Messenger Allen Tobin Talks About the Benefits of Healthy Athletes and Inclusive Health at the 2023 APHA Annual Meeting.
2 Min Read

Special Olympics Calls for Inclusive Access to Diabetes Care on World Diabetes Day

Special Olympics is dedicated to closing the healthcare divide for individuals with IDD by highlighting the significance of diabetes care accessibility and advocating for greater health equity.
2 Min Read

Healthy Athletes Global Faculty Advisory Panel

Special Olympics engages academic and scientific experts to support the successful development and implementation of interdisciplinary Healthy Athletes programming for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Fit Feet

Jay Spector, DPM, FAAPSM

David W. Jenkins, DPM, FACFAS


Neal B Zomback, DPM

Alan McCague, BMedSci(Hons) Podiatric Medicine, MRCoP, HCPC

Kirk Neustrom, DPM


Staffan Elgelid, PT, PhD, GCFP, C-IAYT, E-RYT 200, RYT500, NBC-HWC

Alistair Beverley, BSc Hons, MCSP, ACPPLD


Lucy Inyang Edet, B.MR (PT)

Asst Prof. DR. Tine Kovačič, PT, PhD, MSc PT, NDT therapist

Erin Wentzell, PT, DPT, PCS, DrPH

Health Promotion

Mary Pittaway, MA, RDN, LDN


Vincent Siasoco, MD, MBA



Jeffrey A Zlotnick, MD, FAAFP

Healthy Young Athletes

Prof. Ashraf Coovadia, MBBCh, DCH, FCPaed(SA)

Roxanne Chang, MD


Olabode Agaja, DO

Ahmed Talaat, MBChB, MRCPCH

Andrea Barton-Hulsey, Ph.D

Opening Eyes

Kwadwo Owusu Akuffo, O.D., Ph.D.

Asacha Solomon Muganda, PhD

Kellye Knueppel, O.D., FCOVD


Strong Minds

Marina Heifetz, Ph.D., C. Psych

Carly McMorris, Ph.D.

Catherine Day, DClinPsy, BSC, CPsych, AAC

Karen Golombecki, PsyD, LP

Khaled Kadry, M.D.


Special Smiles

Cassandra Wright, DDS

Hans Stasiuk, DMD, BSC, FASD

Jorge Luis Castillo, DDS, MSD, MdentSci, PhD

Young J Kim, DDS, MS, PhD

Dr. Shadi Alkhatib, BDS, MDS


Healthy Hearing

Leah Martin


Linda Farrow, Au.D.

Pielina Gikundi, AuD

Rachel Craig, AuD, CCC-A

Leah Martin, AuD

Janet Koehnke, PhD, CCC-A