Special Olympics Florida – More Than Just Sports by Laurie Ohall
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Allison Rapp, Site Director, and Cydnee Dennison, Community Outreach Manager, of Special Olympics Florida, to discuss the services they offer to Hillsborough County residents.
When you think of Special Olympics in Florida, you probably think of kids running the 50 yard dash, or playing in a tennis match and receiving medals for their participation. Basically, you think of sports competitions for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. But Special Olympics Florida is so much more than that. Special Olympics Florida is about promoting a healthy community for the disabled population.
Special Olympics Florida wants to be the health home for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to Allison Rapp, the site director of the location at 5420 W. Cypress Street, Tampa, Florida. Think of Special Olympics Florida as the “health arm” of Special Olympics – they offer free screenings called “healthy athletes” at various areas in the community, and not just at the Olympic events.
Their screenings include health promotion screenings that screen height, weight, body mass index, bone density, and blood pressure. This screening also includes interactive educational tools and displays that educate the athletes and their families about nutrition, exercise, sun safety and bone health.
Special smiles is a program that does dental screenings and instructs athletes on correct brushing and flossing techniques. Health Hearing provides audiological screenings, care and advice, and referrals to doctors. Special Olympics Florida is unique in Florida because they have a hearing booth right on site to help with the hearing assessments.
Special Olympics Florida also provides feet and ankle screenings, flexibility and aerobic assessments, sports physicals, and vision screenings (which include free prescription eyewear, sports goggles, and sunglasses!). Anyone who is over the age of 8 and has an intellectual or developmental disability is eligible for a screening, regardless of insurance coverage or income. You do not have to be enrolled in Special Olympics to receive these screenings.
In addition to the health screenings, Special Olympics Florida offers ongoing courses designed to increase physical activity and healthy eating. These courses are free and offered on a rolling basis. The courses include health and wellness classes, physical fitness classes, Zumba, Yoga, gardening, and peer-to-peer health and wellness classes taught by the students’ peers.
Why is this so important? People with intellectual or developmental disabilities may not mention their health problems and these screenings give them an opportunity to address those issues. Also, regular screenings can help find problems before they begin. Finally, these screenings provide an ongoing health history because the family is provided with a report.
The wonderful thing about this program is that Special Olympics Florida Healthy Community Tampa Bay has established relationships with healthcare providers who can offer follow-up services, including free and reduced charges when necessary. If you are interested in signing up for a screening, contact Site Director, Allison Rapp at firstname.lastname@example.org, or the Office Administrator, Susan Reckner at email@example.com.