ISU Headlines

Special Olympics International awards ISU professor Boyd $100,000 grant to study Healthy Athletes volunteers

Posted February 8, 2010

How does volunteering in the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program affect health professionals?  Does it change the perception and practice behaviors toward people with intellectual disabilities?

Idaho State University-Meridian dental hygiene professor Linda Boyd and Donna Bainbridge, a Special Olympics’ global advisor, will explore those questions with a $100,000 grant from Special Olympics International.

 “People with special needs have challenges accessing health care in the United States.  Through our research, Special Olympics will explore whether volunteering leads to changes in attitudes and increased efforts to provide care to persons with intellectual disabilities,” said Boyd, director of ISU’s graduate dental hygiene program.

Launched in 1997, Healthy Athletes is a program providing free health screenings for Special Olympics athletes competing at local, national and world games. Screenings—performed by health professions volunteers—include dental, hearing, vision, health and well-being, feet and fitness.

In March, Boyd and Bainbridge will begin preparing questions for an online survey administered to first-time volunteers participating in the Healthy Athletes program. Surveys will begin this summer at the Special Olympics 2010 USA National Games in Lincoln, Neb.

 “We intend to sample 300 to 500 new volunteers over the next two years.  We will survey them before and after they volunteer to see if their perceptions and practice behaviors have changed,” said Boyd.

The project will enable Boyd to build on initial research she and ISU assistant dental hygiene professor Jacqueline Freudenthal conducted last year during the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Idaho. They interviewed 50 ISU health professions students who volunteered in the Healthy Athletes program and found the experience had a significant impact on volunteers’ perception of the intellectual abilities of the athletes. They also concluded encouraging health professions students to volunteer for Healthy Athletes activities may help to improve the health care provided for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

For more information, contact Linda Boyd, (208) 373-1805 or boydlind@isu.edu.