‘Dif­fer­ent’, not ‘less’

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP -

W Emight have missed a “golden” Merdeka but the feat of our par­a­lympians more than made up for it dur­ing the Hari Malaysia cel­e­bra­tions last week. Our ath­letes brought back for the very first time, gold medals, not one but three.

I have al­ways thought that the ab­bre­vi­a­tion OKU for orang ku­rang up­aya is a mis­nomer, if not ar­ro­gant. It is sup­posed to high­light some form of “dis­abil­ity” in com­par­i­son with the so-called “nor­mal” per­son.

In other words, it is the lat­ter who coined the ab­bre­vi­a­tion OKU based on the as­sump­tions that they are the “best” bench­marks. If that is so, I have my doubts and would ar­gue that be­ing “nor­mal” too is by no means per­fect. They also suf­fer from “ku­rang” this and that and there­fore the bench­mark is rather ar­bi­trary to say the least. To il­lus­trate, as an ex­am­ple, we have come across peo­ple who can paint very good art pieces by just us­ing their mouth or feet for that mat­ter. How is that “ku­rang up­aya” or “dis­abled” com­pared with those who can paint us­ing their hands?

Sim­i­larly in the sports arena. I was watch­ing the women’s bas­ket­ball fi­nals be­tween the US and Ger­many, and was mes­merised by how deftly the play­ers op­er­ated their wheel­chairs while try­ing to score for their team.

And not un­like the pro­fes­sional “nor­mal” play­ers who are lucky enough not to have to de­pend on any form of me­chan­i­cal aid in their game. That said win­ning medals at the Par­a­lympics, there­fore, isn’t any eas­ier rel­a­tive to the Olympics as such. More so if it is a gold medal achieve­ment, not to men­tion cre­at­ing new records as the world’s best.

This was ex­actly Malaysia’s case at the Par­a­lympics in Rio where we bagged an un­prece­dented three gold medals for the first time in the na­tion’s sport­ing his­tory.

Mohd Ridzuan Mohd Puzi won the na­tion’s first ever gold medal in the men’s T36 100m dash. His time of 12.07s broke the Par­a­lympic record of 12.25s held by Ukraine’s Ro­man Pav­lyk since the 2008 Par­a­lympics in Bei­jing. Mean­while, Ziyad Zolke­fli did his bit by win­ning the men’s F20 shot putt with a new world record. Ziyad hurled a dis­tance of 16.84m to break the world record of 16.59m held by Australian Todd Hod­getts since 2007. He also im­proved on the bronze that he won at the pre­vi­ous Par­a­lympics in Lon­don four years ago. Malaysia’s third gold medal was cap­tured by Ab­dul Latif Romly who mirac­u­lously broke the world record three times in the long jump T20 cat­e­gory. He broke the world record for the third time when he soared 7.60m in his fifth jump to take the gold medal. He im­proved the for­mer mark of 7.35m, which he achieved at the World Cham­pi­onships in Doha last year as well as the Par­a­lympic record of 7.25m set by Jose An­to­nio Ex­pos­ito Pineiro of Spain in 2012. That all these took place around the Hari Raya Qur­ban fes­tiv­i­ties made it even more mean­ing­ful as an act of sac­ri­fice for Malaysia in the eyes of the world. More so, it de­mol­ishes, once and for all, the un­called for “ul­tra-ki­asu” al­le­ga­tions sug­gest­ing that those in­volved in in­di­vid­ual events are mo­ti­vated by money rather than pa­tri­o­tism through sports.

Be­cause of all this, and to sin­cerely recog­nise and truly ac­knowl­edge the in­valu­able self­less con­tri­bu­tions, we must go be­yond nor­mal ma­te­rial re­wards, ad­di­tional prices and the heroic calls by many. In fact, there is no bet­ter way than to fur­ther up­lift them all by giv­ing the ab­bre­vi­a­tion OKU a more dig­ni­fied mean­ing as “orang ke­lainan up­aya” in­stead. Or “dif­fer­ently abled per­sons” as this is what they re­ally are.

In this re­gard the so-called “nor­mal” per­sons are no dif­fer­ent. They have no mo­nop­oly over oth­ers by pre­sent­ing them­selves as the bench­mark for those who are dif­fer­ently abled.

Just be­cause the “nor­mal” are the ma­jor­ity does not mean that in the land of the blind the one-eyed is king. They should be more hum­ble than co­erc­ing oth­ers to recog­nise them as role mod­els.

De­spite claim­ing to be “nor­mal” they have to ac­cept their own weak­nesses and flaws as well. Oth­er­wise how do we ex­plain what is tak­ing place to­day? The sad state of af­fairs in our so­ci­ety and its well-be­ing, which seem to point to some se­vere “ku­rang up­aya” hap­pen­ing some­where. Thus if we keep on in­sist­ing we are the bench­mark de­spite the glar­ing sham­bles – it only goes to prove that we are in­deed “ku­rang up­aya” for be­ing to blind too.

Lest we for­get Al­bert Ein­stein and Stephen Hawk­ing are two gi­ants of our times who are them­selves “dif­fer­ently abled” and are never stig­ma­tised as OKU. In sim­i­lar ways our par­a­lympians have proven that they too are dif­fer­ently abled and not “ku­rang” as such.

It is time there­fore to dis­card the old la­bel in pref­er­ence to one that fur­ther en­hances their dig­nity as part of hu­man­ity just like ev­ery­one else. They more than de­serve this.

Our he­roes ... Flash­back of theSun’s col­umn, Off the Cuff, pub­lished on Sept 16.

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