Engaging the disabled through sport
Centres of Expertise to provide programmes and support for people with disabilities
When he first picked up archery eight years ago under the auspices of Awwa - a non-profit organisation that aims to empower the disadvantaged, including youth with special needs - Chua Meng Koon dreamt of representing Singapore on the international stage one day.
While the 32-year-old won a beginners' competition just months after picking up the bow, he had to give up the sport after a year, due to the demands of his then-job in office administration.
But Chua's fire was re-ignited when he watched the Asean Para Games (APG) on homeground last year - while he was not physically present to watch Team Singapore athletes in action, the heroics of para-paddler Jason Chee inspired Chua to take up sports again.
"I approached SDSC (Singapore Disability Sports Council) earlier this year, and they connected me with an athletics programme where I train in javelin and shot put," said Chua, who has been suffering from Acute Transverse Myelitis since a fall when he was four. His condition affects his spinal cord, which in turns affects his movement.
"This programme is new and challenging to me, but I hope to be able to start on an archery programme soon."
"I like the sport because it is very focused - it is just you and the target - and I have always hoped to represent Singapore at the APG, or even the Paralympics," added the computer programmer, who has been mulling over going to the gym to do his own strength and conditioning.
More support is on the way for people like Chua, after the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) yesterday announced a slew of measures, in its Committee of Supply debate in Parliament, to engage people with disabilities more through sports.
Recommendations proposed by the Committee for Disability Sports will be developed and implemented over the next five to six years, beginning this year with initiatives such as the Centres of Expertise.
Announced late last year by MCCY Minister Grace Fu and headed by Sport Singapore (SportSG), these Centres of Expertise are based at ActiveSG centres and include gyms, where accessibility and programmes would suit people with disabilities.
In addition to the Jurong West and Toa Payoh ActiveSG centres which Fu previously announced, Queenstown and Sengkang have also been identified to house such Centres of Expertise and build on their existing cerebral palsy football and swimming programmes respectively.
Senior Minister of State for MCCY Sim Ann said yesterday: "Together with stakeholders, SportSG will develop and implement these initiatives over the next five years."
Chua is heartened by the new measures, especially the introduction of the Centres of Expertise.
"It's a very good idea. I have been thinking of going to the gym to do some strength and conditioning, but am not sure if there are proper facilities there for us (people with disabilities) to use," said Chua, who also tried sailing about a decade ago.
"It's also good to reach out to more people, especially the young ones because I believe it would be easier to encourage them to take up sports."
WHAT'S IN STORE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?
CENTRES OF EXPERTISE
- Such Centres will have inclusive gyms, with enhanced accessibility and sports programmes for people with disabilities.
- At least five Centres to be established in the next five years: Toa Payoh, Jurong West, Queenstown, Sengkang and a yet-to-be-revealed location.
- Queenstown and Sengkang will build on their existing cerebral palsy football and swimming programmes respectively.
- Targeted support for selected schools to develop sports enrichment and learn-to-play programmes for students with disabilities.
- Strengthening partnerships between mainstream and special education schools.
- Selected teachers will be trained to conduct PE lessons for students with disabilities in both mainstream and special education schools.
- Communities of Practice to be set up for the sharing of good practices and learning standards for PE and sports syllabus in special education schools.
- Sport Singapore will work with Singapore Disability Sports Council and sports associations to partner healthcare institutions, such as hospitals, to introduce sports as a form of rehabilitation for people with disabilities.
- SportSG will partner agencies to continue building awareness of disability sports and affinity with Singapore's para-athletes through outreach events.
- SportSG will work with agencies such as the National Volunteer & Philantrophy Centre to build a network of support for disability sports through volunteerism and corporate philanthropy.