Making the Case: Professional Associations

Special Olympics, Golisano Foundation Health Programs Funding Announcement, 2015


Over 6.5 million people in the United States are estimated to experience an intellectual disability (ID), based on prevalence rates of 1 to 3 percent of the total US population.

People with ID experience significant and life-long health disparities compared to non-disabled populations. These disparities are caused in part by delayed care due to cost and uninformed medical care, limited exercise and health promotion opportunities, and their routine exclusion from community health planning.

Yet, most health-related professional organizations do not include people with disabilities -- especially ID -- as a focus of their efforts or activities, and many of their members do not receive training on disability in their academic programs. For example, only about half of accredited Master of Public Health programs include disability content in their programs. In a study conducted by the National Association of County and City Health Officials, nearly 70% of local health departments said they needed additional training on inclusive health practices.


The goal of public health programs and health-related professional organizations is to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities for entire populations. People with disabilities comprise a significant portion of the communities that public health professionals serve. Failure to recognize and act on the health disparities experienced by people with ID, and excluding this population from preventative health promotion and wellness opportunities, continues the cycle of disparities and poor health outcomes and weakens the larger public health impact in communities. It also prevents health-related professional organizations from fully realizing their missions.


Health-related professional associations can better serve their communities and achieve health equity for all by providing education and training to their members on ID and health topics, and providing guidance to their individual members for how to advocate for the full inclusion of people with ID in their fields. Learn how by reading the entire case statement.