Watch the Opening Ceremony

ESPN will broadcast the Austria 2017 Opening Ceremony on 25 March.

1500 x Tippy Tap
  • Main
  • What We Do
  • Providing Health Services Worldwide for the Most Underserved

Providing Health Services Worldwide for the Most Underserved

What if you could help millions of people worldwide who suffer needlessly from chronic pain and disease, blindness and hearing loss, shortened life span, and other health conditions? That's what we aim to do every day. 

Special Olympics Health Programs

With more than 1.6 million free health examinations conducted in more than 130 countries, the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program offers health services and information to athletes in dire need. In the process, Special Olympics has become the largest global public health organization dedicated to serving people with intellectual disabilities.

Over the years, Special Olympics health programs have improved the health of our athletes, and in many cases, profoundly changed--or saved--their lives.

Moise Ahoussimou, a poor West African boy with an intellectual disability and next to no vision, is one example. While volunteering with the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, a doctor realized Moise had been blinded by cataracts. He was referred for a simple operation, and Moise left his appointment with restored sight. He saw his father for the first time. “I can see." He grabbed his father’s hand. “Hey! Dad, I didn’t know you are that tall!”

Above: Handwashing in Africa

A growing part of Special Olympics health outreach brings a year-round focus on healthy habits. At a school in Lilongwe, Malawi, students learned how to use a tippy tap, a low-cost way to allow people without plumbing to wash their hands effectively. Good hand washing helps keep diseases from spreading. The lesson was presented by Special Olympics in partnership with Catholic Relief Services.

320x370 Hadi Rahimi of Iran
Hadi Rahami, a Special Olympics powerlifter from Iran, runs in place to measure his heart rate at a health clinic during the Middle East-North Africa Regional Games in Cairo, Egypt.
660x370 Hadi Rahimi of Iran
At the same regional games in Egypt, Hadi Rahimi competed in powerlifting. Special Olympics coaches ensure athletes know their sports and train well, while Special Olympics Health provides the additional insights and information needed to lead healthy lives.

Healthy Athletes

Officially launched in 1997, Healthy Athletes organizes its events in a welcoming, fun environment. Its events educate athletes on healthy lifestyle choices and identify problems that may need additional follow-up. 

  • 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. 
  • Healthy Athletes has the world's largest database of health data for people with intellectual disabilities. 
  • Through Healthy Athletes, more than 136,000 health care professionals have been trained to treat people with intellectual disabilities. These health care professionals provide improved care to millions. Special Olympics has given out more than 100,000 pairs of prescription eyeglasses to athletes who needed them.

Seven Disciplines

We offer health examinations in seven areas: Fit Feet (podiatry), FUNfitness (physical therapy), Health Promotion (better health and well-being), Healthy Hearing (audiology), MedFest (sports physical exam), Special Olympics-Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes (vision) and Special Smiles (dentistry). 

A Chance to Perform Miracles

Miracles happen at every Special Olympics health clinic. A volunteer dentist from California, USA saved athlete Dustin Plunkett's life by finding his mouth cancer. Mariam Zakhary of Egypt, fitted with a hearing aid, heard her language and her coach for the first time in her life. Stories like Mariam’s are inspiring nations like Egypt to expand their offerings to athletes. All Special Olympics Egypt athletes now receive medical exams and follow-up care.
660x370-Katerina Bates with Kitchen knife
Special Olympics Mexico is part of the Healthy Communities program. Karina Bates, a Special Olympics athlete in Merida, Mexico, has been learning how to shop for and prepare healthful meals.

Healthy Communities

Special Olympics Programs in eight countries (Mexico, Peru, Romania, Malawi, South Africa, Malaysia, Thailand and Kazakhstan) and six U.S. states (Arizona, Florida, Kansas, New Jersey, Wisconsin and New York) are piloting Healthy Communities. More than 13,000 athletes participated in wellness opportunities and 3,000 athletes received follow-up care after a Healthy Athletes exam through Programs recognized as Healthy Communities.

Healthy Communities

The Special Olympics Healthy Communities initiative takes the principles of the Healthy Athletes program and expands them from a series of single events to a steady presence in the lives of our athletes and their families that includes a focus on follow-up care, wellness opportunities, access and education. The Healthy Communities program is clearly demonstrating that health needs to remain a priority for the Special Olympics movement.

To address health-care disparities, Special Olympics has trained more than 136,000 health-care professionals and students, enabling them to return to their communities with increased knowledge of people with intellectual disabilities and a greater willingness to have them as patients. New partnerships have also been created with more than 200 organizations, universities and health-care providers at the local level.
660 x 390 Golisano
U.S. businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano as he announces his $12 million commitment to Special Olympics.

A Generous Donation

That record of success and benefit of Special Olympics’ health program led U.S. businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano to commit $12 million to expand Special Olympics’ health-related services and launch a new Healthy Communities initiative in 2012. The donation was announced by former U.S. President Bill Clinton at the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative event in New York City.

The Healthy Athletes program has been making a big difference at the World Games, offering athletes free health screenings and care. One specialist talks of athletes with undiagnosed vision problems who had learned to accept that "life is blurry." Healthy Athletes can give them a brand new point of view.