Previous Photo |   of    | Next Photo Making a Real DifferenceJessica Licata, a swimmer from New Jersey, is a stronger competitor because of the prescription swim goggles she wears. A free Special Olympics Healthy Athletes vision screening led the way to faster times. Improving the health of our athletes with intellectual disabilities is only one benefit of the program.Bringing Health Care to the Most UnderservedAs many as 200 million people worldwide have an intellectual disability. Much of this population has little or no access to proper health care, even in nations with extensive health care systems or services for people with intellectual disabilities.Shocking Health ConcernsSpecial Olympics learned the extent of the problem among its athletes in 1995, the first year it offered free health screening at its World Games. There, 15% of the athletes screened had such dramatic health conditions that they had to be referred to the emergency room for urgent care.Who Cares for a Vulnerable Population?Worldwide, most people with intellectual disabilities receive inadequate or no healthcare. Special Olympics has launched a new initiative called Healthy Communities, a revolutionary program that will make reach more people with intellectual disabilities more frequently.Photo/Special Olympics ThailandA Game ChangerU.S. businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano (far right) committed $12 million to enable Special Olympics to make meaningful year-round changes in the lives of our athletes through the Healthy Communities program.At Great RiskHealthy Athletes screenings have found that Special Olympics athletes are at increased risk of multiple, secondary health issues: 39% have obvious, untreated tooth decay; 36% of adults are obese; 26% fail hearing tests; and 20% have low bone density.Opening the Door to Healthy AthletesAs a sports organization, Special Olympics was in a unique position to help, and in 1997 opened a whole new world of health care to people with intellectual disabilities and their families worldwide by founding its Healthy Athletes program, offering free health screenings, services, and education.New Goals for Healthy CommunitiesThe challenge that the Healthy Communities initiative is taking on is addressing the care after the free health screenings occur. It's about education, staying in touch and helping identify service providers. Learning the habit of hand-washing in Malawi and other places helps slow the spread of infectious diseases.Healthy Habits in Healthy Communities Special Olympics swimmer Karina Bates of Merida, Mexico, prepares lunch for her family. Eating nutritious food is one way our athletes stay healthy and strong. Healthy Communities provides education in food selection and preparation that promote health. Seven Types of Free Health ScreeningHealthy Athletes screenings by volunteer health professionals are offered under seven disciplines; Vision (Opening Eyes); Dentistry (Special Smiles); Podiatry (Fit Feet); Physical Therapy and general fitness (FUNfitness); Audiology (Healthy Hearing); Healthy Lifestyle (Health Promotion); and Medical/Sports Physicals (MedFest).Hearing the WorldVictor Ifesinachi is a basketball player from Nigeria and received a free hearing aid at Healthy Athletes. Before, he never spoke, and the only way for him to communicate with his coach was to read lips and use the limited sign language that he knew. Immediately after getting his hearing device, he started talking and joking with his teammates. Making Care More User-FriendlyOffered in a fun, welcoming environment, Healthy Athletes screenings remove the anxiety and trepidation people with intellectual disabilities often experience when faced with a visit to a doctor.A Tremendous and Positive ImpactHealthy Athletes has provided more than 1.6 million free health screenings in more than 130 countries, and thanks to generous support from sponsors like Lions Clubs International and dozens of others, given out more than 90,000 eyeglasses and trained 100,000 health professionals to better treat people with intellectual disabilities.Photo by Karl Hejlik“It’s amazing he was even walking around”Hicham Novara, a swimmer from Morocco, had such poor vision, he was essentially blind. He had to hold his cell phone two inches from his eye to see it. But by the time he finished his eye exam and was wearing corrective lenses, he was proudly showing the volunteers pictures of his friends on his phone – while holding it at arm’s length.Providing a Unique ServiceWith Healthy Athletes, Special Olympics has become the largest public health organization specifically for people with intellectual disabilities and maintains the largest database of health information for people with intellectual disabilities in existence.Impacting the Lives of Health Care ProvidersMany volunteer health care providers are so impacted that they drastically alter the way they work, teach and conduct research to be more inclusive of taking on patients with intellectual disabilities. This has resulted in increased access to care.The Ripple EffectHealthy Athletes doesn’t simply benefit Special Olympics athletes. By training health care professionals worldwide who then go back to their practices with increased knowledge of and compassion for people with intellectual disabilities, Healthy Athletes is improving the care received by millions.Help us Help Even More AthletesThe success of Healthy Athletes depends on the support of the volunteer network of health care providers and community members offering opportunities of inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. Together, we can all create a legacy of care. Learn more about Healthy Athletes.What's Next?Special Olympics is meeting with other organizations and individuals who share the idea that people with intellectual disabilities deserve full access to quality healthcare. The need is enormous but Special Olympics is determined to meet it.