We are encouraged by the recent conversations generated around building a more inclusive society for people with disabilities. The recent launch of the awareness campaign by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Tote Board is a step in the right direction.
While education and public awareness are important, empathy (not sympathy) and inclusiveness - where everyone is given an equal opportunity to maximise their potential - can be best fostered through participation in "unified" activities that bring together people with and without intellectual disabilities.
Building inclusiveness lies at the heart of all that we do here at the Special Olympics movement.
People with intellectual disabilities are given opportunities to realise their full potential and become contributing members of society through various sports and community engagement activities.
Through a process we call "divisioning", people with intellectual disabilities of varying ability levels get to participate in a range of competitive sports.
Competitions are structured so that athletes compete with others of similar ability in equitable divisions. Every athlete is recognised for his or her performance. Only winners. No losers.
Special Olympics "unified" sports initiatives bring together those with and without intellectual disabilities to play as a team.
Since 1989, more than 1.2 million people around the world have taken part in our unified sports activities.
A survey of more than 500 young people in India conducted between 2012 and 2013 showed a significant change in attitudes after they took part in a Special Olympics Asia Pacific initiative. The series of events brought together young people aged 12 to 25, with and without intellectual disabilities, for both sports and non-sports activities.
An encouraging 70 per cent of respondents said they could be best friends with someone with intellectual disability, up from 51 per cent before the activities.
A significant 87 per cent of respondents said they could see themselves as agents of change to help alter attitudes towards people with intellectual disabilities, up from 74 per cent before the unified activities.
We believe in the universal power of such interactions and mindset shifts, which can be applied across cultures, including in Singapore.
We hope the NCSS campaign works in instilling empathy among our young people from as early as pre-school age, so that we form strong foundations for a compassionate society.
People with intellectual disabilities must no longer be an invisible population in our midst.
Angelina Ong (Ms)
Special Olympics Asia Pacific