Center for Inclusive Health
Everyone has the same right to health. Don't wait for someone else to make it happen.
Homepage Lede Image - Khang Le of Special Olympics Virginia Runs on a Track During an Event
Why Inclusive Health
  • /inˈklo͞osiv /helTH/
    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.

Meeting the health needs for people with intellectual disabilities would reduce disparities, lower health care costs and ensure social justice. Learn more
Inclusive Health Overview
Everyone has the same right to health. Learn why inclusive health is needed and why it takes a collective effort to make it happen.
While there have been improvements over the years, the fact remains that people with intellectual disabilities still face significant health disparities – not associated with their conditions but the result of inadequate access to services and programs.
Shorter Life Expectancy - Adults with ID are 2X More Likely to Die Before 50 Than Adults Without ID, 666x350 pixels
"People with ID deserve to live happy, healthy lives like anyone else, yet they suffer from greater disparities and lack of services. If we want to make an impact on health equity, this is a group we must include."
-Alex Handfinger, Cooking Matters Director, Arkansas Hunger Alliance
Norway Athlete Dag S. Ryen Smiles on the Mountain in Schladming, Austria at the 2017 World Games
All people – with or without intellectual disabilities – should have equitable access to quality health care, education and services in their communities. Special Olympics aims to strengthen the capacity of health organizations, providers, educators, and influencers to make policies, programming, services, research, trainings and funding streams inclusive and accommodating of people with intellectual disabilities.
Organizations across the public health system can take action to remove barriers and improve access for people with ID to their services, as their patients, customers, beneficiaries, and clients.

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 four strategies to help you start:
Welcoming Spaces

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 may be applied to your services or organization.
 Ensure your space or programs are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


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.

Awareness and Training

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.

Sustainable and Intentional Inclusion

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.

Getting Started Lede - A Focused Female Athlete Rides a Bicycle on the Racetrack at the IX MENA Games in Abu Dhabi, 2018
This work cannot be done alone, or by only one sector of the health system. It is dependent on broad, cross-sector collaboration. Are you ready to become an Inclusive Health Champion? Visit our Resources page.
"All professional organizations in the health arena need to commit to Inclusive Health in an intentional, sustained, and expanding manner."
-James R. Whitehead CEO and Executive Vice President, American College of Sports Medicine

Special Olympics International is pleased to announce the 2020 Inclusive Health Innovation Grant opportunity. These grants reflect our commitment to improving access to mainstream health services in the United States for people with intellectual disabilities. The deadline to submit applications is November 1, 2019.

For further details and to download the complete RFA please follow this link.

Timothy Shriver and Surgeon General Jerome-Adams, Inclusive Health Summit
Visit our News page for updates and announcements from the Center for Inclusive Health and other champions of inclusive health.
Latest News

Special Olympics is pleased to announce that the 2020 Inclusive Health Innovation Grant application period is now open!

We are proud to introduce our second and third installments in the Inclusive Health: Principles and Strategies video series! We are bringing the principles and strategies of inclusive health to life to show you how easy it can be to be inclusive!

Current health systems are failing the 1 billion people worldwide living with disabilities. Unless access to health care is dramatically improved for this marginalised group, the goal of universal health coverage will not be achieved.

From July 15 – July 20, Special Olympics is focusing on celebrating that we are all better together, and encouraging health professionals, employers, youth, and educators to make a commitment to inclusion.

Inclusive Health Principles and Strategies: How to Make Your Practices Inclusive of People with Intellectual Disabilities part 1.
Priya Chandan, Mary E. Dubon

This review provides an overview of sports participation by youth athletes with intellectual disability (ID), focusing on activities offered by Special Olympics International.
Champions of inclusive health are working in their communities and at the national level to make access to mainstream, quality health services the norm for people with intellectual disabilities. These champions are paving the way, creating emerging examples of inclusive health for you to use as a blueprint.
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Thank you for joining the Inclusion Revolution
Get Involved
Receive our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news and resources.