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.

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.
Inclusive Health Overview
Growing the Movement: Inclusive Health at APHA
In November 2018, Special Olympics Health Messengers Parker Thornton, Nell Coonen-Korte, and Jason Gieschen led a panel at the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting about their health journeys and intentional inclusion. The U.S. Surgeon General presented about the importance of intentionally including people with intellectual disabilities in conversations about health equity!
Inclusive Health at APHA
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.
"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.
Meeting the health needs for people with intellectual disabilities would reduce disparities, lower health care costs and ensure social justice. Learn more
Getting Started Lede - A Focused Female Athlete Rides a Bicycle on the Racetrack at the IX MENA Games in Abu Dhabi, 2018
Get Started
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?
"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
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 the 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.

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
Jan. 17, 2019

As we take our first steps in 2019, it is important to reflect on and celebrate the milestones of 2018:

-Developing and awarding the first ever Inclusive Health Innovation Grants;
-Launching of the Center for Inclusive Health
-Developing key resources like...
The National Fitness Foundation

The National Fitness Foundation, in partnership with Health Resources in Action (Boston, MA), are pleased to announce the launch of new resources to promote inclusive physical and fitness education. These resources aim to support physical education teachers nationwide to empower ALL students to be fit for life.
Nov./Dec. 2018
The Nation's Health

Health equity means that all people can reach the highest standard of health, including people with disabilities. Striving toward that goal, APHA is ramping up its work on inclusive health, which calls for the deliberate inclusion of people with disabilities in policies, programming and services.
Foundational strategies apply across all sectors of the public health system, for more information specific to your sector, please explore the audience pages below. More audiences coming soon!
Every health care provider should be trained to care for people with intellectual disabilities and do their part to ensure equitable access to quality health care for patients with intellectual disabilities
All people with intellectual disabilities should have access to and meaningful participation in fitness and wellness programs and activities
Every professional association should commit to addressing the health needs of people with intellectual disabilities and provide their members with the necessary training to be more inclusive.
About Us

Special Olympics is the world's largest sport and 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

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