In the United States, 18.5% of children are obese. According to Special Olympics Healthy Athletes data, for children with intellectual disabilities, the prevalence is almost double at 33%. Regular physical activity is a key factor in preventing or decreasing obesity, a health issue that is costly to the health care system and can lead to a number of co-morbidities (e.g., type II diabetes). However, physical education curricula and equipment are often not accessible to children with intellectual disabilities, which prohibits participating in healthy lifestyle behaviors that can prevent obesity and other chronic conditions. In addition, many individuals with a profound intellectual disability use non-verbal forms of communication – facial expressions, vocal sounds, and gestures – to interact with their environment, which can cause communication barriers to participation in physical education.
FlagHouse is a family-owned global provider of physical education equipment and programs. Launched in the 1950s, they originally sold flags, pennants, and banners for schools and summer camps. In the 1960s, leadership at FlagHouse realized an opportunity to create sporting equipment for physical education programs. After the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 1970s, FlagHouse analyzed their product offerings and realized they were excluding an entire population from their product line—children with disabilities.
Around the same time, two therapists in Europe created the first multi-sensory environment (MSE) space. MSE spaces provide stimulating visuals, sounds, smells, and textures that can aid in learning, development, and decreasing anxiety among people with intellectual disabilities. It was the belief and hope that improving communication and interaction would improve the quality of life of people with disabilities.
After assessing their current products for accessibility for people with disabilities, FlagHouse developed a variety of solutions that were both profitable to the company and beneficial to people with intellectual disabilities. Read the complete Case Study to learn more about these solutions.