Our heroes deserve more
IT’S over. In the greatest feat so far, Malaysian para-athletes clinched three gold medals and one bronze at the Rio Paralympics.
The contingent has done our nation proud, and I was so happy to read that the National Sports Council has recognised their efforts with a generous reward.
But as Malaysians, we can do more for them than share Facebook posts and write lengthy salutes for everyone else to read.
People with disabilities in Malaysia still face many challenges in their everyday lives. Navigating an environment that does not seem to always take your abilities into consideration can be daunting, and often times cruel.
In recent years, Malaysia has improved its standards to create safer and more disabled-friendly spaces and services. However, we cannot progress if we choose to remain unaware or respectful of our diverse abilities, each of which makes us unique.
We need to start being more respectful, as individuals and as a community.
Children and adults alike, whether living with a physical or mental disability, have discovered how to make full use of their abilities every day.
They are inspiring individuals with a different set of challenges, and just as we hope to be respected by all, we must show respect to all. There are practical ways to do so. If you aren’t disabled, stop parking in accessible spaces. I recently observed a gentleman swinging his car into an accessible parking space at a mall, jauntily stepping out and striding towards the automatic glass doors, phone to ear and chatting away.
I understand that many of the parking spaces had been taken up and he might have been rushing for an appointment, but making the choice to take an accessible parking space at your own convenience completely defeats the purpose of accessible spaces.
Teach your children that diversity is precious, that being different is all right.
I’ve seen and heard of parents who discourage their children from interacting with peers who have intellectual disabilities.
What stems forth from such attitudes is a culture of shaming and shunning, and it can destroy the very unity we seek. But I’m encouraged. There is always good in the world, and in Malaysia a growing number of parents are teaching their children to care and love those who may not look, talk or think in a way familiar to them. Different is not bad.
I’ve also witnessed Malaysian drivers on the road being patient and kind to drivers with the disability sticker on their back windscreen.
Instead of honking or highlighting the vehicle for driving slowly, they kindly move to the side or make way for the vehicle. It’s in small acts such as these that respect is given and earned.
The disabled community is made up of strong, talented people who have discovered their abilities and are using them to the fullest.
Our para-athletes are living proof, and I know that as Malaysians we couldn’t be prouder.
Let’s be more engaged, sharing their joys and struggles and making the effort to be part of their community. There is much we can learn from them.
Freespace Where young views rule