The mission of Special Olympics Wisconsin is to provide year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy while participating in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.

Special Olympics Wisconsin programs promoting tolerance, respect and inclusion impact far more than just athletes: volunteers, family members, fans and community members can be counted as stakeholders as well. Special Olympics Wisconsin is able to provide year-round services to more than 9,000 athletes thanks to 11,000 volunteers, whose roles vary from day-of volunteer to certified coach to year-round managers of local programs.

Health programming

Special Olympics first unveiled its Healthy Athletes program in 1997, an initiative which added an exciting new dimension to Special Olympics’ outreach into the community of individuals with intellectual disabilities. The concept was to build upon the inroads Special Olympics programs have and provide basic health screenings and share health information with a community which too often received substandard health care.

Special Olympics Wisconsin offers all eight health disciplines under the Healthy Athletes program, which are:

  • Fit Feet (podiatry)
  • FUNfitness (physical therapy)
  • Health Promotion (general health and well-being)
  • Healthy Hearing (audiology)
  • MedFest (sports physical exam)
  • Opening Eyes (vision)
  • Special Smiles (oral health)
  • Strong Minds (emotional wellness/mindfulness)

Special Olympics Wisconsin offered its first health screenings in June of 2001, when more than 350 athletes received health screenings and education about proper dental care and a healthy diet, along with prescription glasses and custom-fit mouth guards. Special Olympics is considered the largest global health organization specifically for people with intellectual disabilities.

CDC Health Impact Grant

Special Olympics will address the health disparities experienced by children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) through evidence-based health promotion programs and interventions. The project will utilize the World Health Organization’s principles of action to:

  1. Improve the conditions of daily life by encouraging communities to be accessible to all
  2. Tackle the inequitable distribution of resources by increasing appropriate healthcare, social participation, and access to needed technologies
  3. Measure the problem, evaluate action, expand the knowledge base, develop a workforce that is trained, and raise public awareness about the social determinants of health

Project opportunities

Special Olympics Wisconsin offers a variety of opportunities to gain, expand and develop skills and knowledge in public health practice. Students can tailor their experience to meet their desired goals. Project ideas could include:

  • Set up new Fit Club site or help with an existing site, capture pre and post measurements, create and find appropriate functional performance tests to use at Fit Club and implement
  • Collaborate with Special Olympics Health Research team on creating surveys and data reports
  • Create curriculum and/or educations displays on health topics that are prevalent among the population with intellectual disabilities (e.g., healthy eating, physical fitness, hygiene, etc.)
  • Research best practices, prepare and coordinate grant applications and grant-related activities to obtain funding for Special Olympics Wisconsin health programs
  • Develop and maintain cooperative working relationships with Special Olympics Wisconsin staff and Healthy Athletes clinical directors as well as external partners and constituents
  • Assist marketing and communications department with providing information to the public (e.g., press release and social media campaigns)

Ideal student qualifications

  • An interest in assessment, data collection, survey design and implementation and evaluation
  • Interest in working with individuals with intellectual disabilities
  • Ability to work and communicate effectively with a diverse range of groups, professionals, agencies and community members
  • Strong written and verbal skills, be self-directed to learn about a topic area when provided resources and enjoy teamwork