Special Olympics announced this weekend that it has received its largest single private gift in the organization’s 47-year history.
Ann Costello, Director of the Golisano Foundation announced today at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, that the Foundation, established by long-time Special Olympics supporter, Paychex chairperson and philanthropist, Tom Golisano, will provide $25 million to expand Special Olympics’ health services globally for people with intellectual disabilities, a population that lacks access to adequate healthcare and faces significant health disparities.
This gift is not only the largest received by Special Olympics, it is also the largest single gift ever given by Golisano and his Foundation. It is more than double his initial gift of $12 million to Special Olympics in 2012, which helped launch the new Healthy Communities initiative in 14 countries and states to ensure that people with ID receive access to healthcare in their communities on a year-round basis. Healthy Communities builds upon SOI’s successful Healthy Athletes program, which provides free health exams and some health services at Special Olympics’ events.
Healthy Communities has created system-wide change in how health services are provided in eight countries (Mexico, Peru, Romania, Malawi, South Africa, Malaysia, and Thailand) and six U.S. states (Arizona, Florida, Kansas, New Jersey, Wisconsin and New York). Working with partners in governments, non-governmental organizations, health care systems, fitness facilities, and others, the program has increased the visibility and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. It has implemented continuing education programs, changed dental school curricula, enhanced health services and insurance coverage by governments, and trained health volunteers.
People with intellectual disabilities are part of one of the largest and most medically underserved disability groups in the world. Millions with intellectual disabilities lack access to quality health care and experience dramatically higher rates of preventable disease, chronic pain and suffering, and premature death in every country around the world. In developing and developed countries alike, people with intellectual disabilities are consistently the most marginalized population subset – a status that comes with horrific health outcomes. Barriers that contribute to this include stigma and discrimination, insufficient or lack of health care provider training, over-attributing symptoms to a particular condition which results in conditions being untreated and undiagnosed, limited prevention education reaching this population, limited self-advocacy, cultural beliefs, increased poverty and poor enforcement of laws and policy to protect this population.
Over the past 18 years Special Olympics has grown to become the largest global public health organization specifically focused on people with ID. Led by the Golisano Foundation, and supported by other organizations globally and locally including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Special Olympics is making strides for ensuring inclusive health and working with corporations, organizations, universities, hospitals, and health care professionals to do more to ensure people with intellectual disabilities are not excluded from the health care systems within their communities.