Inclusive Health FAQ

Powerlifting Athlete Nathan Fisher, of Great Britain, Celebrating Four Medals Won at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens

Since its creation in 1997, the Special Olympics Health program has made life-changing and life-saving strides in health. Despite the success of the health program, people with intellectual disabilities (ID) remain one of the most medically underserved groups in the world. They are frequently locked out of most aspects of health systems and face significant health disparities. To improve the health outcomes for all people with ID and not just their athletes, in 2016 Special Olympics introduced a strategy: Inclusive Health.

What is the problem?
People with intellectual disabilities (ID) have a higher prevalence of adverse health conditions, less access to health promotion programs, inadequate attention to care needs, and inadequate access to quality health care services. Systemic challenges exacerbate these disparities, including limited training of, and inadequate reimbursement for, providers. As a result, people with ID are often excluded from existing health care systems, and have inequitable opportunity for health. It is important to address and end these health disparities in a sustainable way.

What is inclusive health?
Inclusive health is the inclusion of those with ID in mainstream health policies and laws, programming, and services, training programs, research, and funding streams. Inclusive health means that no door is the wrong one for a person with ID to access health services and programs.

Why is inclusive health important?
Inclusive Health is founded on the idea that the health disparities faced by people with ID can be addressed by removing barriers and making the necessary accommodations to include people with ID in the mainstream health care system, health promotion, and public health efforts. Sustainable inclusive policies and practices can address, reduce and often eliminate many of these barriers. Inclusion allows for people with ID to take full advantage of the benefits of the same health programs and services experienced by people who do not have ID, resulting in improved health outcomes.

What are the types of barriers faced by people with ID accessing health services?
People with ID face a number of barriers in the health care and public health system. Common barriers include attitudinal barriers, communication barriers, policy barriers, programmatic barriers, social barriers, and physical barriers.

What are the key strategies my organization should use to work towards inclusive health?
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. Four primary strategies include:

  1. Welcoming Spaces: Ensuring your programs and physical spaces are accessible and welcoming to people with ID.
  2. Communication: Ensuring your communications, including written and spoken language, materials, and interactions with the community are accessible to people with ID.
  3. 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.
  4. Sustainable and Intentional Inclusion: Building intentional and sustainable inclusion by changing organizational culture to value and understand inclusion.

More information on these strategies and tips for implementation are included in the Inclusive Health Principles and Strategies: How to make your Practices Inclusive of People with Intellectual Disabilities.

For more answers to frequently asked questions, see the complete FAQ.