SINGAPORE: More PE teachers, coaches and volunteers will be trained to help people with disabilities take part in sports, as part of a five-year plan to open more doors for the disabled community to get active.
About 3 per cent of Singaporeans today have some form of disability. Due to the small number of specialised coaches available or the lack of public sports facilities, only three in 10 take part in sports at least once a week. Other barriers include financial costs of participation, lack of transport as well as health and safety concerns.
To break down these barriers and encourage more people with disabilities to take up sports, special infrastructure for various sports will be built at five sports centre by 2021. The centres will, for instance, have bigger gantries to make it easier for wheelchair users to enter the venues. The sport centres are: Sengkang, Queenstown, Delta, Toa Payoh and Jurong West.
A ramp to introduce wheelchair users gradually into the pool has also been built at Sengkang Sport Centre. Other centres will eventually focus on other sports, like cerebral palsy football, badminton and boccia.
Another way to get more people with special needs to get active is to start them from young – through PE lessons in schools. However, there are not enough teachers who can coach people with special needs.
1 PE TEACHER TO COACH STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS IN EVERY SCHOOL BY 2019
"We only have a few teachers, a handful of teachers, who are trained,” said Ms Liew Wei Li, divisional director of Ministry of Education’s Student Development Curriculum Division. “We’re going to have in-service courses to prepare more teachers to do that so that with the knowledge that they have and with their skills … we should see more teachers sharing best practices with one another."
The goal is to have at least one PE teacher equipped with such skills in every school within the next three years. Some schools, such as Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School (AISS), have already taken the first step. It has been taking in visually impaired (VI) students since the 1960s.
Ms Penny Chong, VI resource teacher at AISS, said: "Partially sighted students, if they're confident enough, can take part in PE with their classmates. But, we don't encourage that as we understand that the teacher has to juggle 40 students so it's difficult to keep an eye on the VI student in that class."
Following feedback from its visually impaired students, the school hired a special coach in August 2014, to train them in PE.
Sport Singapore also wants to increase the number of specialised coaches like Mr Danny Ong, who learned how to train people with special needs in Australia. He crafts customised lessons for his students who have a range of disabilities and has been training them for 20 years.
Mr Ong, an aquatic educator of persons with special needs at AquaFins, said: "If a person with cerebral palsy falls, he or she will have massive injuries because they will fall on their face. We teach them how to break fall in the water and this skill can be transferred back on land. If they ever fall, they can break fall properly."
According to Mr Ong, he is one of about 50 swim coaches here, who train people with special needs, including those who are not born with a disability, such as Mr Tan Whee Boon.
The 51-year-old lost his limbs in August last year, after suffering from an infection linked to eating raw fish. His wife has since become his main caregiver.
"I want to live my life healthily and actively. If I'm fit and healthy, it'll be easier on my wife,” he said. Apart from physiotherapy, Mr Tan also uses sports to improve his condition.
Mr Gabriel Kwek, a senior occupational therapist at Tan Tock Seng Hospital Rehabilitation Centre, said: "We have a sports integration programme. Beyond normal therapy, you can try out sports to see what you can do, and where you can do and whom you can find.
“But, disability sports is quite new to be able to tap on volunteers. I think we have a lot of room to explore for what they can do."
SPORT SINGAPORE TO HAVE MORE PEOPLE TO HELP THOSE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
This is also something that Sport Singapore hopes to change. It wants to ramp up the number of people who can help those with special needs get active.
“Coaches need to constantly upgrade themselves. We want our coaches to develop the capabilities,” said president of Singapore Disability Sports Council, Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang.
She added that for example, the council has piloted a first coach's network for swimming. “These would be coaches who are already training some of our special athletes, whether it's in special schools, or some of our special programmes,” she said.
“We also have some mainstream swimming coaches who are now interested in coaching swimmers with special needs so we had a network, so it's a good first step. We need to look to set up more coaches network for more different sports now."
As for others, sports helps them with their mental development. Mr Dallon Au, who is partially-sighted with congenital cataract, said: "Running actually keeps me fit. It makes me think of certain things – like when I can’t solve a math question, I go for a run and somehow I can solve the math question after that."
It is hoped that with more resources, every person with disability can eventually get started on sports to make a significant difference in their lives, whether it is to get healthier, or even a chance to compete nationally.