Don't turn a blind eye to para-athletes

Earlier this week, I stepped into the shoes of a blind person for a brief moment, when the organisers of the ASEAN Para Games (APG) hosted a meal with a difference, after a demonstration of two APG sports.

Some participants dined without the use of one or both hands, while I was blindfolded to simulate blindness.

I took some time to orientate myself, and to allow myself to be helped by a "caregiver" in getting my food from the buffet line, and told where each dish was placed on my plate.

I eventually took off my blindfold five minutes into the meal, having to return a text message, at which the coordinator said:

"You can easily take off your blindfold but, for our athletes, this is forever."

That struck a chord for me, and deepened my appreciation for the visually impaired people here.

Not many able-bodied people may have had the same experiences as my fellow participants and I, but I was actually heartened by the response that many had in the ASEAN Para Games transport debacle yesterday.

The fact that people are angry that our para-athletes might be treated as "second-class citizens" at the APG, compared to the SEA Games athletes, is a positive thing.

They worry about the physical challenge that these athletes face in negotiating fare gates at the MRT stations and the crowd in the trains; they fret over the mental states of these sportsmen before their competitions if they take public transport; they are concerned about people getting lost and turning up late for their events.

In short, they empathise and care.

Despite what others might say about how "emotionless" Singaporeans are, we have shown our capacity to openly appreciate, support and care for one another this year - first, at the death of Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and then the sea of red at the SEA Games in June.

There is no reason, then, that we cannot do the same during the APG this December.

Yes, some may have no clue what sports like goalball and boccia are about, but the Games will be a perfect opportunity to learn and appreciate something new.

After all, one does not need to pay to watch any of the 15 sports, and there will be plenty for individuals and families to do at the Sports Hub and the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) - the two main areas of competition.

You may even get to interact with the APG athletes if they choose to take the MRT train between the MBS, where they are staying, and the Sports Hub.

Even if you are too shy, a smile, a pat on the back, a simple "good luck" or "good job" can go a long way in lifting their spirits after a bad day, or propelling them to perform above themselves.

After all, whether they are Paralympic champions, or Asian Para Games gold medallists, or debutants who have picked up a sport barely a year ago, they all have overcome their physical limitations to pursue greatness.

Regardless of their physical stature, they have slayed their personal demons to stand tall in sport.

With your help, they can become giants who deserve plaudits.

This article was first published on Oct 9, 2015.
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