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Jakarta Post

Befriending the differently abled

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, September 28, 2018   /   08:38 am
Befriending the differently abled A giant cutout of Ni Nengah Widiasih, a national Para games powerlifting athlete, stands under the Semanggi overpass in Jakarta on Wednesday. The Asian Para Games will run from Oct. 6 to 13 in Jakarta. Stories p3,8 (The Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama )

A nation’s progress is increasingly measured by the equality, visible appreciation and treatment of all its people. While Indonesia is hardly known for demonstrating such equality toward the differently abled, the upcoming Asian Para Games, which Jakarta will host from Oct. 6 to 13, is undoubtedly a historic opportunity to improve and even change attitudes not only toward Para athletes but also toward anyone with a disability. 

At the forefront of this task for the Asian Para Games are around 3,000 volunteers, including those with disabilities themselves, who are undergoing intensive training to assist athletes, delegation members and spectators. The opportunity provided by the international event, through the volunteers, will hopefully help transform Indonesia to become a disabled-friendly country, as stated by the Indonesian Asian Para Games Organizing Committee (INAPGOC) deputy chief Sylviana Murni. 

This is a highly ambitious and very challenging goal; even tactile paving for the blind, which is fairly new in big cities like Jakarta, has been made into illegal parking spaces like regular pavements. The city’s bus stops have also sparked protests for their design, which does not suit people in wheelchairs.

Social Affairs Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita said the government would make use of the volunteers right after the Games, to “make them the tip of our spear” in public education on the appropriate ways to communicate and treat those with disabilities. 

The ministry is responsible for a training of trainers program for the volunteers, after INAPGOC set “high standards” for volunteers, which include sensitivity to anyone in need of assistance. 

Sensitivity is the key word here, as many people are indeed in the dark, especially when they unexpectedly encounter a disabled person who may or may not need help. 

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo set the tone by announcing that Indonesian Para athletes would receive equal bonuses to those presented to medalists at the Asian Games. This was a crucial gesture to begin to change the paradigm of what is “normal” in society. Within such a paradigm, it seems “normal” that Para athletes would receive smaller bonuses, despite their obviously much harder mental and physical struggles as both individuals and athletes, while public enthusiasm to watch the Para Games could also be lower than the fever that gripped the nation during the Asian Games. 

Each gold medalist at the Asian Games, which concluded on Sept. 2, earned between Rp 750 million (US$50,670) and Rp 1.5 billion in cash bonuses, depending on whether they competed in individual, doubles or team events. 

The fact that Jokowi will open the Asian Para Games is certainly a testament to Indonesia’s respect for the rights of people with disabilities, including in the sports arena. But more is needed to boost excitement for the event beyond giant cut-outs of the Para athletes in public spaces.

The organizers have previous Para Games hosts to learn from in anticipation of low ticket sales. With a week remaining, hopefully the organizers can woo people to fill the stadiums and witness how humans can overcome disabilities.