Inclusive Health: The inclusion of all people, including people with intellectual disabilities (ID), in mainstream health policies and laws, programming, and services, training programs, research, and funding streams.
People with intellectual disabilities are one of the largest and most medically underserved populations. Because of a range of systemic challenges, including inadequate provider training and inaccessible facilities, they have less access to quality health care and health promotion programs. As a result, people with intellectual disabilities experience dramatically higher rates of preventable disease, chronic pain and suffering, and premature death. Read our FAQ.
The foundational principles of Inclusive Health are: Equitable Access and Full Participation. Equitable Access means ensuring that people have access to the services and resources necessary to achieve their full health potential. Full Participation means that people with ID are fully and meaningfully included in health programs and services.
Here are the four strategies to help you start:
Ensuring your programs and physical spaces are accessible and welcoming to people with ID:
Incorporate disability etiquette, including for intellectual disability, into internal staff training.
Speak directly to the individual, not his or her companion, and let the person finish before responding.
If you offer assistance, wait for the offer to be accepted and for specific instructions. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask.
If you are having difficulty understanding a person, it is ok to ask them to repeat themselves.
Operate under the assumption that people with ID are capable of making their own decisions.
Explore how using Universal Design – the design of services or physical environments to be useable by all without adaptation – may be applied to your services or organization.
Ensure your space or programs are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Where possible, ask people with ID if there is a particular accommodation that might help them better use or benefit from your services.
Ensuring your communications, including written and spoken language, materials, and interactions with the community are accessible to people with ID:
Use accessible language.
Written materials should be in plain language, at no more than a sixth-grade reading level.
Language should get to the point and avoid jargon, acronyms, and abstract statements.
Provide in-person assistance to ensure individuals understand materials and are able to complete forms.
Include images of people with intellectual disabilities in your promotional materials.
Materials should also be available in other accessible formats like braille and large type.
Understanding your community and training your staff on the barriers and challenges faced by people with ID, including on how to remove them:
Train staff and leaders on the barriers faced by people with ID and methods for how to overcome those barriers.
Hire people with ID to provide input on and/or conduct the training.
Building intentional and sustainable inclusion by changing organizational culture to value and understand inclusion:
Embed inclusion into your organizational culture.
Incorporate disability rights and access into company policies and mission statements, including diversity statements.
Incorporate inclusion into each program, service, or activity you offer.
Partner with local disability organizations to learn how you can improve your inclusive practices.
Include people with ID in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs, services, or activities.
Hire people with ID to work at your organization in a meaningful capacity, both as a way of promoting a culture of diversity and inclusion and as an effective way to increase awareness of the need for inclusive practices.
Special Olympics is the world's largest sport and public health organization for people with intellectual disabilities. We strive to make health systems fully inclusive to ensure people with intellectual disabilities are able to lead healthy and meaningful lives. To contact us email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We'd like to thank the following contributors: Abby Wolfe, American Association on Health and Disability, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, Elaine Eisenbaum (University of Kentucky), Heather Parker (LiveWell Solutions, LLC), Rachel Patterson (Health Management Associates), and Priya Chandan (University of Louisville).