The Challenge

"We found discrimination, we found intolerance, we found injustice. Even in the halls of medicine. We found an entire system not yet ready to respect the dignity of people with intellectual disabilites. --Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics

Whether we are talking about health care, employment, housing or any number of activities in our communities, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are often excluded.

  • Approximately 6.5 million people in the United States have an intellectual disability.
  • Approximately one to three percent of the global population has an intellectual disability – as many as 200 million people.
  • Intellectual disability is significantly more common in low-income countries – 16.41 in every 1,000 people. Disabilities overall are more common in low-income countries.
  • The United Nations Development Program estimates that 80 percent of all people with disabilities live in low-income countries. While people with disabilities represent approximately one in 10 people worldwide, they are one in every five of the world’s poorest people. (source: Special Olympics)

Inclusive Health

Inclusive health means people with intellectual disabilities are able to take full advantage of the same health programs and services available to people who do not have intellectual disabilities. (Special Olympics). 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 suffer in pain, are at higer risk for premature death, lack the opportunty to get a job, be productive and contribute to society, are unable to live with dignity and independently, and participate in their communities.

This is changing. Every year we are making more progress as we work hard to open doors to a more inclusive world for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Key facts on health disparities for people with IDD

Above Chart: Inclusive Health Key Facts

Our goal in partnering with Special Olympics is to improve access to quality health services for 11 million people with ID around the world.

Despite severe need and higher health risks, people with intellectual disabilities are often denied health services and die on average 16 years sooner than the general population. They fall through the cracks unable to access preventive and routine care. Healthcare providers often lack the training necessary to care for people with IDD. That is changing. Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, is creating a world where people with intellectual disabilities have every opportunity to be healthy.

Meeting the health needs of people with intellectual disabilities would lower health care costs and ensure social justice.

VIDEO: Embrace the Ideal of a Healthy Community


According to the America Association of People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities:

"People with I/DD face a housing crisis with many contributing factors, such as a serious lack of safe, affordable, accessible and integrated housing, and significant housing-related discrimination.  Outmoded public policy and programs which unnecessarily segregate people with I/DD, as well as lack of coordination among funding systems, also pose major barriers."

Historically, families with a child with a disability had to either place their child in an institution, or manage without any supports or services at home.  Institutions create an isolated, unnatural way of life that is inappropriate and unnecessary, while consuming a disproportionate share of limited public resources.  As people with I/DD have left institutions or their family homes, they frequently have been placed in group homes, often larger than family-sized, typically owned or leased by provider agencies.  People in those settings may have little control over where and with whom they live, the services they receive, or the routines of daily life.

The recognition that people with I/DD belong in the community has led to a growing demand for community-based housing.  This demand is fueled by persons choosing to leave institutional settings, by young adults educated in inclusive schools, and by adults with I/DD who live with elderly parents. 

However, people with I/DD are among the nation’s poorest citizens.  For many, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits, which are often far lower than typical rents, are their primary or sole source of income; beneficiaries are generally priced out of rental markets across the country.

Affordable housing programs are drastically underfunded, with long waiting lists.  In addition, Medicaid, the principal source of funding for services and supports for people with I/DD, typically does not allow funds to be used for rent or other community-based housing-related costs.

These factors pose major barriers to community living, making it difficult for people to move from segregated facilities into the community, and putting many people with I/DD at risk of unnecessary institutionalization or homelessness."


"Research demonstrates that inclusive education results in the best learning outcomes; there is no research that supports the value of a segregated special education class and school. The emerging picture, however, is one in which the opportunity for students to participate in their neighborhood school alongside their peers without disabilities is influenced more by the zip code in which they live, their race, and disability label, than by meeting the federal law defining how student placements should be made." (National Council on Disability February 7, 2018)

Join the Inclusion Revolution!

The Golisano Foundation is joining Special Olympics in promoting the Inclusion Revolution, where through the power of Special Olympics athletes and sports, we will welcome a new world of unity, tolerance, and respect. #ChooseToInclude

Sign the Inclusion Pledge