Leading Research & Influencing Policy

Justice means being morally right, equitable and fair. Changing lives for the better means giving people services that make a positive impact. Neither is possible without a solid understanding of what’s needed, and a plan for how to provide it.

Leading the Way

Special Olympics leads the world in researching and addressing the concerns of people with intellectual disabilities – at 200 million individuals, the largest disability group in the world. We identify the pressing issues facing this group, commission and conduct high-level, externally validated scientific research, then reach out to the highest leaders in government, health care, education, the nonprofit sector and business to influence policy and to bring valuable services to those in need. Special Olympics’ research into intellectual disability, and perceptions of those who have intellectual disability, is a catalytic force for social and policy change around the globe. See a list of research studies commissioned by Special Olympics.

President John F. Kennedy hands his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the pen he used to sign a federal law on disability rights

Leading the Way. U.S. President John F. Kennedy congratulates his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver after signing of a federal law supporting rights of people with intellectual disabilities.

Discovery and Change

Our research study of the health status and needs for people with intellectual disabilities led to the U.S. Surgeon General's report, "Closing the Gap – a National Blueprint to Improve the Health Care for Persons with Mental Retardation.” This report brought about a U.S. federal appropriation to expand the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes® program, which to date has brought more than 1.4 million health screenings to athletes in 120 countries.

Findings and challenges presented at the 2007 Special Olympics Global Policy Summit on the Well-Being of People with Intellectual Disabilities led nearly 70 signatories representing global organizations and countries to endorse a statement of support for growing Special Olympics, and for promoting the acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities in society.

After learning about the disparities for people with intellectual disabilities and the impact of Special Olympics on their health, well-being and ability to participate in society, and after seeing first-hand the abilities and possibilities of the athletes at the World Games, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo elevated the department that handles national disability programs to report directly to her.

After Special Olympics research demonstrated the positive impact of sports training, Special Olympics and UNICEF launched a partnership to aid children with intellectual disabilities, focusing on health care, education, recreational sports and employment policies. The program began with Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama and Uzbekistan.

Special Olympics attitude research shows that the majority of people worldwide underestimate the abilities of people with intellectual disabilities. Our research also shows that their capabilities far exceed their expectations. With this knowledge in hand, we are opening doors for greater opportunities for them in education, health care and employment.


Be a Part of Progress

We are making progress, but we have so many more people to reach. Your gift helps Special Olympics continue to research and develop programs that influence policy on a global level – improving the lives of people with intellectual disabilities worldwide

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Videos and Photos

DifferentBarry Cairns tells what it's like to be a Special Olympics athlete.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

SpeechlessSpecial Olympics changed her life in deep and meaningful ways.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Summer GamesAround the world, months of practice are paying off.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Photos on FBSee photos and comments from our supporters around the world.See Photos »


Videos and Photos

Hope in HaitiLeo and Gedeon play in makeshift fields, tent towns, wherever they can.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Finding His VoiceDavid Egan has always dreamed big. Now look at him!Learn More »


Videos and Photos

Sport Teaches UsOur life-changing work is fueled by the power of sport.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Making SuccessDoctors said Lani is “never going to achieve anything.” Learn More »


Videos and Photos

Very Very SpecialMusic helps Special Olympics make an impact worldwide.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Around The WorldGreat photos of Special Olympics events and people.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

Focus on ChangeWhat we do can't be done without our partners.See Slideshow »


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Power of SportsSports are a powerful way to change our athlete’s lives.See Slideshow »


Videos and Photos

What We DoSports, health, education, community and more.See Slideshow »


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Who We AreWe are athletes, families, celebs, volunteers and more.See Slideshow »


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Summer SportsOur athletes run, jump, swim and score in summer.See Slideshow »


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Playing UnifiedUnified Sports reveals strengths in every team member.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Healthier AthletesOur free health clinics are making a huge difference.Watch Video »


Videos and Photos

Deon NamisebHe's a speaker and role model. It didn't start that way in Namibia.Learn More »


Special Olympics Blog

Health Needs Need Closer Examination

"You can't compete if your feet hurt, if your teeth hurt or if your ears ache."read more »

Posted on 2014-04-07 by Ryan

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