Choose to include: The importance of inclusion in healthcare

by Nell Coonen-Korte

My name is Nell Coonen-Korte and I have been a Special Olympics athlete for 17 years. I am also a trained Special Olympics Health Messenger advocating for the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in the healthcare system.

For years I struggled to find doctors who could help me. I could not hear and learned to read lips. Even though I knew why I couldn’t hear, I was not able to get help due to not having the right level of care and resources.  I also was not able to walk without support, and doctors told me it was connected to my intellectual disability. 

I got frustrated and I gave up trying to find anyone who could help me.  Then I was screened through the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program and got the care I needed and deserved.

After that screening, Special Olympics helped connect me with other doctors to follow up with so that I could make sure I was taking care of my health.   

Just like everyone else, I want to be healthy so I can compete at my best.  I’m thankful to Health Athletes and Starkey Cares for fitting me for my hearing aids. Having hearing aids will have a positive impact on my life in several ways: it will help me with my job, it will help me hear commands in powerlifting from my coaches, it will help me hear my friends, and it will also help when I give speeches so when the audience has questions I won’t need to ask someone to repeat what they were asking me. 

All of us can be more inclusive.  All of us can do better, and better.  I challenge everyone to choose to include.  Empower us to be the best both on and off the field.  Special Olympics has given me the confidence and the skills to be my best. When other people and organizations are committed to inclusion too, we are unstoppable! 

Nell is a Special Olympics Minnesota athlete, staff member, Global Health Messenger and advocate for health equity. Nell has shared her story with the U.S. Surgeon General, the CDC and Starkey Cares. She works at Special Olympics Minnesota as a Program Assistant.