Special Olympics BC’s Healthy Athletes screenings address the issue that individuals with intellectual disabilities have unique challenges around health care and communicating their needs.
Many have trouble realizing or expressing their health concerns, and at the same time, many health professionals have not had the opportunity to receive specific training, or are not familiar enough with this population, to know the best questions to ask to draw out the issues.
Through Healthy Athletes, health care professionals receive training about the specific health care concerns of people with intellectual disabilities, learning how to ask the right questions and create a welcoming, supportive environment where they can draw out issues. The enjoyable interactions at Healthy Athletes screenings lead to referrals back into the health care system, to ensure the individuals with IDs will get the treatment they need.
After the Special Olympics BC Healthy Athletes Screening Day in Victoria in May 2019, Dr. Nazima Sangha reflected on the value of the program. Dr. Sangha is an optometrist who first got involved with Healthy Athletes as a student, and she is now a B.C. Clinical Director for the Opening Eyes optometry screenings. She says it’s “such a fun and fulfilling experience” to volunteer with Healthy Athletes.
She notes that communication issues should not exist between health care practitioners and individuals with intellectual disabilities – “if we take the time to listen, there should be no barriers” – but the Healthy Athletes program helps by creating “a supportive and safe environment as well as easy access as a group.”
Dr. Sangha warmly recommends the Healthy Athletes volunteer experience to other practitioners, and explains that interactions with individuals with intellectual disabilities builds understanding that they are just like everyone else, with their own wants and needs.
“It is an opportunity to provide care to some who don't or won't otherwise access it, and it is a truly rewarding experience,” she said.
The Special Olympics BC Healthy Athletes Screening Day in Victoria welcomed 34 individuals with intellectual disabilities, including awesome groups from SOBC – Campbell River and Salt Spring Island, and several young people who aren’t yet Special Olympics athletes but are interested in getting involved. The event included screenings in Opening Eyes, Strong Minds led by B.C. Clinical Director Sarah Kiengersky, and Healthy Hearing led by B.C. Clinical Director Darlene Hicks.
The dedication of the volunteer Clinical Directors, the enthusiasm of all participating volunteers, and the support from partners such as Tom Weissberger from Essilor Canada and Susan Leblevec from Essilor helped make the event a success. All of the employees as Dr. Sangha’s clinic, the Family Eyecare Centre of Victoria, who weren’t working that day generously came out to volunteer. Dr. Sangha said she was grateful to all of the event’s volunteers and supporters, and also the participating athletes and individuals with intellectual disabilities.
“They are genuinely appreciative for the health care and protective eye wear, and enjoy the social part of the experience.”
Many individuals with intellectual disabilities go through life with untreated issues, due to the challenges with communicating their needs and accessing health care. Dr. Sangha said the Opening Eyes Screenings in Victoria saw “all ranges of vision problems that could be corrected with glasses as well as eye health conditions like cataracts, glaucoma, and dry eye.”
The May 2019 Healthy Athletes event in Victoria was Special Olympics BC’s second of the year, after the popular screenings at the 2019 SOBC Winter Games, and it was followed by the SOBC Healthy Athletes Screening Day in Smithers in June 2019.
The Smithers event featured great participation from more than 20 athletes who came over from the adjacent track meet being hosted by SOBC – Smithers. They accessed dental and health promotion screenings, and benefitted from a hydration presentation by certified Special Olympics BC Health Hero Kaylee Richter of Smithers.
Vancouver dental hygienist and educator Shelly Chaisson recently completed her training to become a volunteer B.C. Special Smiles Clinical Director, and she generously gave her time to the Smithers event. Two young local dentists came and volunteered the whole day, and expressed their enthusiasm to have more individuals with intellectual disabilities as patients in their own practice.
Huge thanks to all the participants, volunteers, and supporters who made these important events possible and successful!