Special Olympics athletes embody the very best of the human spirit. Determination, courage, focus, unity - all of these characteristics and more are but some of the reasons why Special Olympics athletes have inspired generations to achieve their best- both on and off the field of play. Yet, for so many Special Olympics athletes throughout the world, access to quality eye health and vision care services are simply out of reach. In large part, this poverty of access is due to a lack of professional training for vision care professionals on how best to treat patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Through an innovative partnership with Optometry Giving Sight, Special Olympics is able to increase its service delivery, and professional capacity building, to ensure that individuals with intellectual disabilities are afforded the same access to quality vision care as the general population. The partnership will focus on strengthening the reach of the Special Olympics- Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes program to provide increased vision screenings to Special Olympics athletes, as well as training opportunities for vision care professionals on how best to treat this often marginalized disability population. The geographic of the partnership will focus predominantly on the United States, engaging Colleges of Optometry to highlight the need for increased access to care.
Janet Froetscher, Chief Executive Officer of Special Olympics, said, “Special Olympics is most grateful for the support of Optometry Giving Sight for their generous and continued support to our athletes. Together in partnership, Special Olympics and Optometry Giving Sight are committed to helping all athletes achieve their best not only in the arena of sport- but in the larger arena of life.”
David Evangelista, Special Olympics’ Vice President of Global Development and Government Relations, explained that almost half of US Special Olympics athletes are walking around with an incorrect eyeglass prescription. “Imagine what that statistic is in a less affluent country,” he said. “When an athlete cannot see the ball or the basket, she cannot play her best. And off the playing field, she can’t achieve her potential in terms of education, employment, or inclusion in her community when she is held back by poor vision.”
As a legacy of the African Leaders Forum on Disability in Malawi in 2014, the first-ever African Leaders’ convening on Intellectual Disability, Optometry Giving Sight will also support the expansion of Opening Eyes vision care services for Special Olympics Malawi athletes, as well as support the implementation of formal training seminars at the College of Optometry in Mzuzu, in the north of Malawi. This pioneering project, the first of its kind in Malawi, serves to further highlight the need for increased action in support of individuals with intellectual disabilities, namely in low-to-middle income nations, to ensure full social inclusion across all health disciplines.