Partnership Aims to Make Fitness More Inclusive

Special Olympics and IHRSA, the Global Health & Fitness Association, are partnering in order to build awareness and capacity within the fitness industry to support the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities (ID). IHRSA and Special Olympics will focus on increasing inclusive fitness opportunities within communities globally to support people with ID in leading an active and healthy life.

IHRSA, the IHRSA Foundation and its members have long been committed to inclusion. The IHRSA Foundation’s mission is to promote health through exercise by expanding education and resources, research and engagement. Jointly with the American Council on Exercise, the IHRSA Foundation was awarded a 2020 Special Olympics Inclusive Health Innovation Grant. The project focused on supporting and facilitating the inclusion of people with ID in fitness and sport and resulted in several resources:

  • Strategies to Expand Inclusion of People with Intellectual Disabilities in the Fitness Community shares key findings from a survey of 306 Special Olympics athletes regarding attitudes and perspectives on gym use; provides a list of strategies gyms can take to meet the needs of people with ID based upon survey research; and explains the role of health and fitness centers in promoting inclusive fitness.
  • SMASH IT! An Inclusive Small Group Training Program Template: Developed by staff at the UNESCO Chair in Inclusive Sport, Fitness, Recreation, and PE, this template provides eight weeks or 24 sessions of programming that is appropriate for people with and without disabilities.

As part of the partnership, Special Olympics and IHRSA will disseminate the IHRSA Inclusive Fitness Toolkit to Special Olympics Programs, educate Special Olympics Program staff on how to partner with local fitness centers, and foster connections between IHRSA members and local Special Olympics Programs. Ultimately, this partnership will increase opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to engage in physical activity by increasing access and inclusion in fitness centers globally.

"Partnering with Special Olympics is a positive step for the global health and fitness industry," said Liz Clark, IHRSA president and CEO. "This collaborative relationship will help ensure that IHRSA advocates to key government officials around the world about the importance and benefits of inclusive programs for those with disabilities. In addition, our partnership will help IHRSA provide gyms, studios and supplier partners with resources and information about best practices to support their own inclusion and community engagement programs.”

“Special Olympics is excited to partner with IHRSA to promote the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities within the fitness industry," Annemarie Hill, senior vice president, global health operations at Special Olympics. "People with intellectual disabilities deserve every opportunity to engage in physical activity and improve their health and fitness. This partnership will help achieve this by preparing fitness professionals and leaders to meet the fitness needs of people with intellectual disabilities globally.”