JANUARY 6 ― In today’s society, inclusive education for children with special needs is a much talked-about topic. Any initiative and programme that promotes fully inclusive education for these children are always welcome.
We also wish to see such effort extends beyond classroom education and into everyday activities, such as sports. Inclusive sports can be carried out more often and will benefit all involved, able or differently-able.
We can save a lot of cost organising different events with the difference of “para” and “typical” athletes. With inclusiveness, with the same volunteers, same venues, same time, we can have two events going on! Same effort, double rewards!
In this regard, we are proud as the team official and a swimmer taking part in the recent Sukan Sarawak I 2017 held in Kuching between 14 and 17 December 2017, a wonderful sports event that was done in an inclusive way.
Sukan Sarawak, aims to identify young and potential athletes to represent Sarawak in the national and international sports ground. It involved 14 standard events and four para events for those with disabilities.
Since it is a 19 years and under event, the majority of the athletes were teenagers still attending schools. We salute the organiser’s farsightedness and courage to treat all athletes, with or without disabilities, equally during the preparation and throughout the competition. It is a great achievement and a big step forward in building an inclusive society in the state.
For swimming in Sibu, swimmers with or without disabilities had been training in the same pool; sometimes under the guardianship of the same coach. Before departure, Resident Hii Change Kee eloquently briefed all athletes in Kingwood Hotel, including the 19 who took part in the four para-sports.
For the first time, we saw athletes taking part in para events were buddies by our side, receiving the same treatment and hospitality. Everyone was given the same number of sports wears with the same design. As for those from out-station, everyone regardless of their abilities stayed in the same hotel. The next day, all athletes from the Central Zone contingent departed together using seven big coaches.
Upon arrival in Kuching, all athletes checked into Universiti Malaysia Sarawak Quarters with similar standard accommodation and provided with the similar type of meals. For the official opening and closing ceremonies, it was really fantastic when the para athletes were not separated but grouped under the same zone flag, displaying the full spirit of inclusion.
In the pool, swimmers taking part in para events sat right next to us in the observation area cheering for our swimmers competing in the pool. The para events and standard events flowed smoothly. People who anticipated problems with the “inclusiveness” approach and were concerned that it would significantly lower the standards of the competition must have been surprised.
Another highlight of the event was the unique medals, designed in traditional Iban shield style, with the event name and cultural carvings on it. We were glad that every winner, with and without disabilities received this unique medal.
However, there are still ways to improve throughout the event. Although the organiser had done a fantastic job on inclusiveness, the physical access should be improved ― more ramps, wider passage ways, and obstacle-free access should be prepared for the convenience of people with disabilities in the sports arena, accommodation and the transportation.
In addition, there should be some ways to ensure floors were non-slippery. The quality of announcements could be improved for clarity. If we are going to include athletes with hearing and/or visual impairments, we need to improve the overall quality of communication. Volunteers need to be briefed and even trained on the needs of individuals with disabilities and various ways of assisting them.
As a team official and swimmer, we applaud again the effort of the organisers to run this event inclusively for all athletes, making it a great achievement for everyone. A big “Ooo-haa” for Sarawak and God bless the Organizing Chair, YB Datuk Snowdan Lawan, the Secretary Dr Ong Kong Swee and their committee members / volunteers.
We sincerely hope that all major sports events in future in the State, and for that matter, the whole nation, is conducted with full inclusiveness and that necessary supports be provided for the full and safe participation of all athletes.
We hope that the Central Committee of Sukan Malaysia 2018 in Perak and other sports authorities will be able to emulate what Sarawak has done in an effort to ensure an inclusive society for all.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.