New centres will help disabled be active and more confident

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and Danny Ong, swimming coach and principal trainer for people with special needs at AquaFins, helping amputee Tan Whee Boon into the swimming pool via the ramp.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu and Danny Ong, swimming coach and principal trainer for people with special needs at AquaFins, helping amputee Tan Whee Boon into the swimming pool via the ramp. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

When 51-year-old Tan Whee Boon lost all four limbs after suffering severe food poisoning linked to Group B Streptococcus infection last year, he never imagined that he would participate in a sport again.

However, the former technician enjoyed a dip at the ActiveSG Sengkang Sports Centre yesterday, at the launch of the first of five Centres of Expertise for Disability Sports.

Persons with disabilities (PwDs) like himself will now be able to take up sports at these centres, which provides PwDs access to facilities and programmes to learn a sport suitable for them.

"I've always liked to swim, and now that I have a chance to learn I hope I can do well enough to race. If they select me for next year's Asean Para Games, I will be glad to go," said Tan in Mandarin.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who officiated at the centre's opening, said: "Through sports, they (PwDs) can develop confidence, they have self- esteem, and so they can find physical, social and emotional wellness."

First in the pipeline of programmes is the "Yes! I Can" Swim Programme, which will begin this month. There are three programmes for the public and one for special education schools, where participants can develop water safety and competency skills.

Those interested can register for the programmes on the ActiveSG website. The fees from the courses range from $120 to $200 - of which 30 per cent can be offset using ActiveSG credits.

The Centre of Expertise in Sengkang is the first centre that will be rolled out within the next five years.

Queenstown, Toa Payoh, Jurong West and Delta sports centres are the other locations which have been earmarked based on location, among other considerations.

"These centres have been selected as they are accessible to people with disabilities... they have appropriate ramps, appropriate pools that are shallow, and there's access as well to the gyms from the roadside kerb," said Sport Singapore chief executive Lim Teck Yin.

"These facilities have been around for some time, the software now needs to come in to promote sport and to get people out here to learn a new skill through sport and build their confidence," he added.

The centres are just one of 18 recommendations by the Committee of Disability Sports, which was convened in January last year and chaired by then Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sam Tan.

The recommendations, which will be implemented in phases over the next five to six years, include the setting up of inclusive gymnasiums with adaptive fitness equipment; the development and improvement of more inclusive and adapted physical education programmes in mainstream and special education schools; and the increase of awareness and outreach events that will promote inclusiveness through sport.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline 'New centres will help disabled be active and more confident'. Print Edition | Subscribe