Paralympics can also liberate our attitudes to the disabled

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 September, 2008, 12:00am

It is too early to say what the lasting effects will be for China from the superb arrangements made for the Olympics and Paralympics. Certainly, all later Games will be judged by the tremendously high standards set for this summer's competitions.

But what will the legacy be for Hong Kong of hosting the equestrian Paralympics?

Several organisations here do excellent work to bring the benefits of participation in sports to our disabled fellow citizens. For many disabled people just facing the routine difficulties of everyday life is, itself, a great challenge. It was both humbling and uplifting to see our severely disabled youngsters push themselves to the limit to compete at that Paralympic level. We all feel proud of them.

But what next? Can the Paralympics help bring about a much-needed change of mindset towards the differently abled? Traditionally, Chinese people might seek to hide a disabled family member; whereas the Paralympic Games seeks to celebrate their achievements. That welcome change would be from an attitude of losing face for what the disabled can't do, to applauding what they can do.

Here, daily travel is by no means easy for many disabled people. Seats specially marked on trains and buses for the disabled and elderly, are routinely occupied by others and even by their shopping bags - and passengers are often reluctant to make way for someone who really needs a seat.

Too few employers are prepared to take on a disabled person in any capacity, meaning that many disabled people are under-employed, or completely unable to land a job at all.

Many disabled people will tell you of the difficult days they spent at school, where ignorance and prejudice from other children made their lives hell. It is a wonder that so many come through that searing experience as well-adjusted as they do.

If our citizens learn anything from these Paralympics, it is to be wished that such incidents of selfishness and prejudice, even victimisation, would never again occur here - or anywhere. Time will tell whether Hong Kong's treatment of our disabled brothers and sisters improves, as a result.

Paul Surtees, fund-raising ambassador, Hong Kong Federation of the Blind