Special Olympics is the largest public health organization for people in intellectual disabilities (ID). There is often a misconception that the poor health of people with ID is due to their disability. Research has shown that it is in fact a result of a breakdown in health education, health promotion, and health care. Special Olympics Arizona’s Health Programs works to address these problems to improve the health of our Athletes. SOAZ focuses on the basic health, wellness and education for persons with ID, as well as improving access to quality health care year around for Athletes in their own communities.
In 2016, Special Olympics Arizona received the Golisano Health Leadership Award and was recognized as a Healthy Community and joined a community with over 21,825 healthcare professionals and students to provide ongoing, community-based care for patients with intellectual disabilities. Healthy Communities is a model Special Olympics Health program made possible by the Golisano Foundation and addresses the severe health disparities faced by people with intellectual disabilities through immediate and long-term solutions.
The Healthy Athletes Program provides free health screenings, education, and follow-up care for Special Olympics athletes in a welcoming, fun, and inclusive environment. All while changing the way future health professionals interact with people with intellectual disabilities.
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 and/or 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
With nearly a decade of proven success, Special Olympics Arizona’s inclusive health education program, Healthy LEAP into Fitness (HLIF), allows people with and without intellectual disabilities to experience increased physical activity, improved daily nutrition, heightened social engagement, and better emotional well-being.
The program is modeled to include health education, class activities, and supplemental resources. Designed to be taught in an eight-week format, HLIF focuses on four pillars (chapters) of health: Physical Wellness, Nutritional Wellness, Emotional Wellness, and Social Wellness. The program includes a Coaches’ Guide, complete with 12 health lessons, activities and resources to practice with their team, who each receive Player Playbook, where they are able to take notes, complete activities, and set personal goals.
Special Olympics Arizona fully supports the notion that all people have the right to healthy and safe relationships. The mission of the Healthy Relationships Program is to bring comprehensive and all-inclusive health education, services, and resources to our athletes and our community. This program is modeled to include activities, education, and conversations about personal safety, healthy boundaries, relationships, consent, sex, and more.