Audiology students volunteer with Special Olympics Florida

By Anne Riker Garlington

UF Audiology students at  Special Olympics
UF audiology students at Special Olympics

University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions Doctor of Audiology students were among dozens of volunteers who provided health screenings for athletes at the Special Olympics Florida State Fall Classic held in November. 

The audiology students provided services such as hearing screenings, an ear wash station for removal of ear wax and analysis for ear infections. When more significant hearing loss symptoms are detected, the athletes are referred to audiologists for follow-up care. 

Nearly 80 universities and colleges in Florida send students to assist with the various volunteer opportunities and many come from the health care field. The Healthy Athletes program offers free health screenings in eight disciplines for overall health promotion.

“We could not do our health programming without the student volunteers,” said Jennifer Miller, who directs Special Olympics Florida health programs.

“It’s a win-win for everyone. The Special Olympic athletes get the health screenings they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get, and the student volunteers gain the experience of working with people with intellectual disabilities,” Miller said.

Limited self-advocacy is an issue for many of the Special Olympics athletes, Miller said. The athletes can’t always describe how they’re how they’re feeling as they may be nonverbal or cannot express their symptoms. Volunteers are trained to provide screenings and to better understand the health needs and abilities of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“We have found that 84% of health care providers say they feel better prepared to treat people with intellectual disabilities after volunteering with Special Olympics,” Miller said. 

Hearing screenings conducted at Special Olympics Florida events have identified several athletes with untreated ear and hearing conditions, Miller said.

“Many athletes reported their world opens up once they can hear things in everyday life or on the field such as their teammates and coaches,” she said.

For the past several years, Doctor of Audiology students in the PHHP department of speech, language, and hearing sciences, have volunteered for Special Olympics Florida events. Several shared their experiences from the recent Special Olympics Florida State Fall Classic.

Audiology student testing hearing equipment
Audiology student testing hearing equipment

Question: What made you decide to get involved?


“It’s an opportunity for audiology students to go back to the basics, especially as a first year. We’re being able to practice things that we don’t do during our normal clinicals. Each Special Olympics athlete is unique, and I love to talk to them about what sport they’re playing that day and how the competition is going for them. They’re really excited about participating. It’s fun because in a normal everyday life I don’t get to encounter people with intellectual disabilities.” — Amanda Prozeralik, third-year

“It is an incredible opportunity for hands-on experience and to make a real difference. Hearing loss very often presents comorbidities that a lot of these athletes have. These hearing screenings are a fantastic opportunity for the athletes, who may be at a higher risk for hearing loss, to get up-to-date hearing tests or free hearing aid cleanings. In addition, it was so much fun! All the athletes are amazing.” — Ellie McIntosh, second-year

“I was involved with the Special Olympics when I was in high school. When I learned about the opportunity to volunteer at the Special Olympics, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I love volunteering and being able to share my time and talent with others.” — Jaclyn Colopietro, first-year:

Q: What advice would you give to students considering volunteering?

A: “Join the experience with an open mind and allow yourself to learn as you go. It is OK to make mistakes as there are people who can assist you.” — Madi Frederick, second-year

“Make sure you volunteer with an open mind, be patient and willing to learn new things. I am proficient in American Sign Language and was able to use my signing skills with one of the athletes. It was nice to be able to communicate and establish a positive connection.” — Isabella Rodrigues, first-year

“Reach out to UF Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) to get involved. There were students from other schools as well as some undergraduate students there helping to volunteer. I recommend anyone who is interested —DO IT!” — Ellie McIntosh

Photo credit: Special Olympics Florida