September 16, 2021

Tom Golisano Gifts $30 Million to Special Olympics to Expand Critical Health Services Globally for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Tom Golisano and Ann Costello at a Special Olympics health screening

Tom Golisano and Golisano Foundation Executive Director Ann Costello observe an eye screening at an event held before the pandemic.

Special Olympics announced today that it has received its largest single private gift in the organization’s 53-year history. Tom Golisano, Paychex founder, philanthropist and father of a son with an intellectual disability, will provide $30 million, his third major gift to Special Olympics, to expand the Special Olympics Healthy Communities program, which provides health services globally for people with intellectual disabilities (ID), a population that has been critically underserved, especially during the pandemic.

Through the Healthy Communities program over the past five years, Special Olympics conducted 700,000 athlete health screenings – double the number done in the previous five years – and offered follow-up care in the communities that decreased urgent referral needs by half. Healthy Communities added 150,000 athletes to fitness and health programs, decreasing their blood pressure, improving health outcomes and potentially adding years to their lives. More than 150,000 health care providers have been trained in 60 countries and 130 health professional schools now have inclusive health curricula to train students on intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics has also partnered with many organizations, including foundations, governments, universities, and philanthropists to contribute to Healthy Communities programming.

“By investing in our Healthy Communities, Mr. Golisano will allow us to expand to hundreds of new domestic and global regions,” said Dr. Alicia Bazzano, Special Olympics Chief Health Officer. “This new gift comes at a critical time for our global community as we have seen during this pandemic just how little this population has been prioritized.”

Ann Costello and Alicia Bazzano in a home in Kenya with a group of people

Ann Costello (second from right) and Dr. Alicia Bazzano (third from right) in Kenya seeing firsthand the work of Healthy Communities in improving the health of people with intellectual disabilities.

People with intellectual disabilities die on average 16-20 years sooner than the general population. More often than not, these deaths are preventable and result from treatable conditions, like constipation, seizures and heart disease. During the pandemic many people with intellectual disabilities have not had access to critical COVID-19 care and resources like ventilators and vaccines.

A study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Catalyst; found that people with intellectual disabilities are almost six times more likely to die from COVID than the general population.  The pandemic magnified how people with intellectual disabilities historically have not been seen as a priority for access to equitable health care.

Over the next five years, Special Olympics will move the world closer to inclusion in health care for people with intellectual disabilities through multiple key strategic actions including:

  • Reaching three million in-person and virtual health screenings in over 100 countries and ensuring follow-up care is received.
  • Improving the overall health and fitness of 600,000 athletes.
  • Reaching 650,000 young children with intellectual disabilities and their families—to provide them with early intervention services to enable them to walk, run, skip and play earlier.
  • Creating the Golisano Virtual University to provide training to 100,000 more health care professionals enabling them to treat people with intellectual disabilities.
  • Creating the first-ever Global Report on the Health of People with Intellectual Disabilities – this report will evaluate disparities across health systems to develop inclusive policies and practices in target countries.

As the leading advocate for health of those with intellectual disabilities, Special Olympics is driving towards access to life-changing health care for this population. Since 2012, Tom Golisano and his foundation have prioritized the health needs of people with ID, donating previous gifts totaling $37 million to help achieve health equity for people with ID all over the world, beginning with the launch of Special Olympics Healthy Communities.

“I am pleased to continue financial support for Special Olympics’ extraordinary health work, which is giving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities improved access to health services and the opportunity to live happier, more productive lives,” said Golisano. “Special Olympics’ impact on the health of people with ID is impressive – as is its strategy on how to build on this success over the next several years. The focus on measurement, standardization of practices, early diagnosis, a trained workforce, and health systems that demonstrate inclusive policies, will effectively position Special Olympics to further our mutual goal of health equity.”

“Over the last decade, Tom’s commitment of $67 million has helped us expand our health programming from local and regional health services, to now over 120 Healthy Communities,” said Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman, Special Olympics. “Tom and Foundation Executive Director Ann Costello have been visionaries in reducing health disparities and improving the quality of life for people with different abilities.  They have been consistent and outspoken in the commitment to the physical and social-emotional health of those with intellectual disabilities. We thank them for their leadership, partnership and passion for making health care more equitable for our population.”

Special Olympics Health, made possible by the Golisano Foundation, and in the United States in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is creating a world where people with intellectual disabilities have every opportunity to be healthy and can take full
advantage of the same health programs and services available to people without intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics has provided 2.5 million free health screenings in 146 countries and trained nearly 350,000 healthcare professionals. The organization is investing in a life-span approach, serving as health partners for every person with an intellectual disability throughout their life.

About Special Olympics

Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Special Olympics Unified Sports® partners in over 190 countries and territories and more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 Games and competitions every year. Engage with us on: Twitter, FacebookYouTubeInstagramLinkedIn and our blog on Medium. Learn more at

About Tom Golisano and the Golisano Foundation

Tom Golisano — entrepreneur, philanthropist, and civic leader — is the founder and chairman of the board of Paychex, Inc., a leading national provider of payroll, human resource, and benefit outsourcing solutions with more than 14,000 employees and 100 office locations nationwide serving more than a half-million small and medium-sized businesses. Tom’s vision, perseverance, and action have left an indelible mark on a broad spectrum of issues that touch our lives – in business, healthcare, education, voter policies, politics, and tax reform. His personal philanthropic contributions to hospitals, educational institutions, and other organizations exceed $330 million. A fierce advocate for dignity and inclusion, Tom Golisano applied his pioneering spirit to establish the Golisano Foundation to help make the world a better place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Founded in 1985, the Golisano Foundation is now one of the largest private foundations in the United States devoted exclusively to supporting programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. With $45 million in gross assets, it awards more than $2 million in grants annually “Imagining the Possibilities,” advocating for families, fighting for their dignity, and giving people with IDD the opportunity to thrive in their communities.

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