Au.D. student teams up with Special Olympics to promote healthy hearing

Kari Morgenstein with Dr. Stephen Corbin, dean of Special Olympics University, at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Special Olympics World Games’ Healthy Athletes venue. Photos courtesy of Special Olympics.

In June, thousands of athletes gathered in Athens, Greece for the world’s largest sporting event of the year. UF Doctor of Audiology student Kari Morgenstein was there to catch some of the action while providing an important service to the athletes.

As a volunteer with the Special Olympics Healthy Hearing team, Morgenstein helped conduct hearing screenings for 1,200 Special Olympics World Games athletes during the first several days of competition. The team fitted 21 athletes with hearing aids and provided vouchers to another handful of athletes to receive free hearing aids in their home countries.

“A team from Turkey would come in to go through the hearing screening process followed by teams from Pakistan, Australia, China and South Africa — the list was endless,” Morgenstein said. “Getting to interact with the Special Olympians from all over the world was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something I will remember forever.”

People with intellectual disabilities have a 40 percent greater risk for health issues, and many health care professionals are not trained to care for people with intellectual disabilities, according to the Special Olympics organization. The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program has offered health screenings to athletes at local, regional and world games for 14 years. Athletes receive screenings in audiology, dentistry, health promotion, physical therapy, podiatry, sports physicals and vision. The program has provided health screenings for 1 million athletes in 100 countries, making it the largest public health organization specifically for people with intellectual disabilities.

“Individuals with intellectual disabilities are an extremely underserved population in terms of hearing health care, no matter the country and resources available,” Morgenstein said.

Morgenstein is president of the national Student Academy of Audiology (SAA), which recently developed a unique relationship with the Special Olympics Healthy Hearing program to encourage audiology graduate students to volunteer at Special Olympics events at local, regional and state levels.

The Special Olympics Healthy Hearing team

“I hope to be a part of and contribute to the Special Olympics Healthy Hearing program for years to come,” Morgenstein said. “While at the Special Olympics World games, I realized there are many selfless, determined individuals in this world. I saw this firsthand. The Special Olympics Healthy Hearing venue was run entirely by volunteers who donated their time and services to a cause bigger than them.”