The Healthy Athletes (HA) initiative is a health screening and education program designed for people with intellectual disabilities. HA Screenings are offered in seven disciplines and are administered by volunteer healthcare providers at sporting events throughout the year. Launched in 1997, HA has made Special Olympics the largest healthcare provider for people with intellectual disabilities in the world.
In order for athletes to perform at their best, both on and off the playing field, we believe promoting a healthy lifestyle to our athletes is critical to their success. The Healthy Athletes program is dedicated to providing health services and education to Special Olympics athletes and changing the way health systems interact with people with intellectual disabilities. All screenings are free to the athletes and occur throughout the year.
The need for Healthy Athletes is great. 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. People with intellectual disabilities have poorer health, more specialized health care needs, and greater difficulty accessing health care services and doctors compared to the general population.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), despite the severe need and higher health risk, people with intellectual disabilities are denied health services, community interventions, and there is a lack of targeted interventions and programs for the population. Healthcare professionals who volunteer with Special Olympics have found that Special Olympics athletes are at increased risk of secondary health issues.