Prejudice at home is the bigger hurdle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2011, 12:00am

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What it must be like to be obliged to struggle through life blind, or without the use of a limb, in a wheelchair, or mentally disabled, truly staggers the imagination of luckier members of the community.

Recent events in Greece, the birthplace of the ancient Olympic Games, give us cause to reassess just what it takes; and indeed to be impressed by the heroic spirit demonstrated by our local athletes who competed in the Special Olympics summer games held in Athens.

Every athlete faces the challenge of competing against himself, striving for ever-better performances. For disabled people - to whom the ordinary activities of daily life present daunting challenges - a sports competition is a stern test of their resolve. Our Hong Kong team at Athens consisted of 76 athletes, aged from nine to 30. This team, although representing only about 1 per cent of the total number of the international competitors there, nevertheless brought home 115 medals, 58 of them gold. It is to their credit that they have won such success for themselves, and for Hong Kong.

As we salute their victories, we may ask ourselves if they are given equal chances to shine here at home or at work. The success of these athletes, and those before them who competed to such good effect in the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, surely gives us all cause for reflection. These talented young sports men and women, children some of them, have shown us all very clearly just what can be achieved through hard work and determination.

However, it is an unfortunate fact that too few Hong Kong employers are prepared to give a disabled person that all-important chance to earn a living; and to gain that enhanced level of independence and self-respect that comes with a job.

There is much room for improvement in making our workplaces more inclusive of the full range of people who live in this world city. And that includes addressing the need to open up more job opportunities for the physically and mentally disabled among our fellow citizens.

The current, more politically correct phrase of being 'differently-abled', rather than disabled, points to a coming and welcome sea change of attitudes towards this diverse group. Thus they can be celebrated for what they can achieve, despite all the difficulties involved, rather than being pitied or even rejected for what they cannot do.

The impressive achievements of Hong Kong's team at Athens should give us cause to help seek more opportunities for such brave people, here on the home front.

Paul Surtees is an adviser to the Hong Kong Federation of the Blind, and is involved with fund-raising for different groups of disabled people