Special Olympics, as we all know, is the world’s largest public health organization serving people with I/DD.
Beyond providing year-round sports training and athletic competition in 22 sports at no cost to athletes, their families, or caregivers, the Special Olympics of New York, thanks to generous support from the Golisano Foundation, works to build healthy and inclusive communities. Healthy Athletes screenings at Special Olympics of New York events often identify participants previously unrecognized health issues.
Still, 13 years of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes (HA) program health screening data show that athletes face severe health disparities:
- 82% of adult athletes are overweight or obese
- 42% need new prescription eye glasses
- 34% fail hearing tests
- 22% have untreated tooth decay.
There is no question that services such as enhanced health screening, wellness initiatives, and care coordination are particularly important for this group. Healthy Athletes screenings at Special Olympics of New York events often identify previously unrecognized health issues.
However, under 1/3 of the athletes take advantage of these screenings.
To solve this problem, the University of Rochester Medical Center’s UCEDD/LEND and Special Olympics of New York are partnering health care students with Special Olympics athletic teams to increase participation in health screenings, to support coaches, and to encourage athletes to be proactive in taking care of their health.
This Team Trainer Program promises to improve athletes’ overall health and well being.
The collaboration builds on the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program, incorporating AADMD student member volunteers as Team Trainers (TT) with Special Olympics sports teams. Partnering with one Special Olympics athletic team’s coach to focus on athletes’ health and wellness, the Team Trainer will:
- Serve as a liaison between each athlete and his/her health care provider
- Create individualized health goals for athletes
- Ensure Special Olympics medical authorization forms are accurate and current
- Facilitate HA screenings at Special Olympics events and follow-up with community health care providers.
Through the Team Trainer Program, the University of Rochester and Special Olympics of New York hope to increase early identification of risk factors and high prevalence conditions in people with I/DD. They also hope to create opportunities for health providers to receive clinical experience with a medically complex population, and to facilitate communication with health care providers about identified conditions.
In the process, they anticipate that health providers will learn to understand the strengths and gifts of Special Olympic athletes, and that the athletes will learn to trust that health providers are approachable, caring, and knowledgeable allies.
If successful, the pilot program will:
- Increase number of students with knowledge of health needs of people with I/DD
- Promote health service utilization for adults with I/DD
- Infuse health into Special Olympics training and competition
- Provide a successful model for replication.
The Special Hope Foundation is proud to support this brilliant collaboration that is at the core of our mission.