Special Olympics: Learning disability sport looks to tackle 'horrifying' health issues

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'If you get in there it changes your life completely'

Special Olympics Great Britain wants more action to improve the health of people with learning disabilities in this country.

Government-funded research says women with a learning disability die 20 years younger on average than the general UK population and men 13 years younger.

"The life expectancy is horrifying," said Special Olympics GB chief executive Karen Wallin.

"That's unacceptable in a country meant to be in the forefront of healthcare."

An intellectual, or learning, disability is a term used for those with an IQ of 75 or less.

Special Olympics is the charity which organises year-round sport for these people and Wallin explained the challenges they are facing.

"The other statistic is that one in three people with learning difficulties are obese," she said.

"The reason they're dying younger is that they have preventable diseases that are not being caught early enough, but I don't think we've seen anything happen or any major impact of reducing the reduced life expectancy at the moment.

"So we are trying to address that."

Some people taking part in the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box
Special Olympics is the charity which organises year-round sport for people with learning

This week the Copper Box Arena, a London 2012 venue, hosted an event where people with such a disability were given a chance to try sports for free.

Ian Harper has participated in a number of national and European events as a Special Olympics athlete - and, by his own admission, if he had not got involved he would probably still be sitting on the sofa.

"It gave me more confidence from the start and it gave me more of a sense of believing in what I can do," he said.

"Those who are not involved in Special Olympics , who don't know about Special Olympics, think their chances are limited.

"But if you get in there it changes your life completely and it feels you've got more opportunity."

Special Olympics GB is not funded by the lottery. It recently secured some treasury funding, which the charity says made a significant difference, but that money was a one-off payment.

At next year's national Special Olympics Games in Sheffield clubs will be asked to raise hundreds of pounds for each competitor they send to enable the event to happen.

"We are probably still one of the only countries in Europe that doesn't receive central funding or sport governing body funding to put on events or to go to world games," Wallin added.

"It puts a strain on the clubs it puts a strain on the head office to raise two million pounds.

"Our athletes and families are great at going out and talking to local communities but one in two people with learning disability live in poverty, so asking them to go out and fund raise to take part in something doesn't make sense."

More images from the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box.........

Some people taking part in the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box
Some people taking part in the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box
Some people taking part in the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box
Some people taking part in the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box
Some people taking part in the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box
Some people taking part in the Special Olympics event at the Copper Box

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