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Empowering Persons With Disabilities Through Sport

Five centres providing expertise for disability sports will be rolled out island-wide over the next five years in Singapore’s drive to promote sports participation amongst the disabled. Together with five inclusive gymnasiums, these centres in Delta, Jurong, Queenstown, Sengkang and Toa Payoh will offer sports programmes to develop the motor skills and improve the overall health and well-being of participants.

Housed in the heartlands within easy reach, each centre will pilot at least one para sport such as table tennis, football, swimming and boccia.

“Our first objective is to allow people with disabilities to come forward and live better through sport,” said SportSG CEO Lim Teck Yin. “As we begin to promote sport for people with different abilities, we hope to see some serious sports enthusiasts that come out of the programmes that we’re running, and who knows you could see an expanded Team Singapore.”

Swimming was successfully piloted at Sengkang Swimming Complex earlier in the year for all disabilities – physical, sensory and intellectual.

Tan Whee Boon, 51, can vouch for its value. He is in the pioneering batch of 25 disabled taking part in the “Yes! I can” swim programme at Sengkang. “Swimming allows me to exercise. I used to swim in the past and now I have to learn how to swim again. It is tough but I will not give up. I can make new friends and we encourage one another.”

It is the first exercise programme for Mr Tan, an ex-technician whose hands and feet had to be amputated in August 2015 when they shrivelled and turned black after he ate raw fish. “The 8th ASEAN Para Games brought para sports to my attention. My friends who were involved in table tennis and shooting introduced me to the swimming programme,” He said.

Many more can benefit once SportSG scales up its programme to other public pools.

Blueprint for Development
The establishment of the centres for expertise is part of the 18-point recommendation under the Disability Sports Master Plan. Introduced in the wake of the successful 8th ASEAN Para Games (APG) which Singapore hosted in December 2015, it is drawn up by the Committee for Disability Sports made up of agencies such as SportSG, the Singapore Disability Sports Council (SDSC) and Special Olympics Singapore.

According to data from the Sports Index 2015, only about a third of the people with disabilities play sports at least once a week.

As there are more than 1,000 students with disabilities in mainstream schools, the master plan requires SportSG to work with the Ministry of Education to develop relevant sports programmes for schools that have students with disabilities. Selected teachers will be trained to conduct inclusive physical education (PE) lessons for students with disabilities in mainstream schools, and adapted PE lessons for those in special education schools.

SportSG and SDSC will partner healthcare institutions, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centres, prosthetic and orthotic clinics, to introduce sports as a form of rehabilitation for people with disabilities.

SportSG will also work with various agencies to organise a series of events to increase public awareness of disability sports and build public affinity with para athletes.

Raising A New Generation of Coaches
For the master plan to work, Singapore will need many more coaches who are properly trained and equipped for the task, as the needs of people with different disabilities require different approaches. For instance, those with visual or cognitive impairment may need a more tactile teaching method, learning through repetition of exercises. The specific skills required for a given game or activity may also have to be modified to meet the athletes’ developmental abilities.

“We have the facilities, we can draw up the programmes, but we need to ramp up the number of coaches,” said Kerk Kim Por, Director of Para (Disability) Sports, SportSG.

The Singapore Sports Institute’s coaching academy and the International Paralympic Committee will help with the training and development as well as certification and audit of coaches.