SINGAPORE - Primary 6 pupil Yong Sue Harn, from the Minds Towner Gardens School, tried her hand at para table tennis for the first time on Wednesday (May 25), and now she hopes to join the Para Sport Academy.
The 12-year-old, who has an intellectual disability, was at the tryouts of SportCares, the philanthropic arm of national agency Sport Singapore (SportSG), held at Heartbeat@Bedok to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
The Para Sport Academy, which was launched in March this year to grow the base of para sport talent here, now has 130 participants with disabilities across six different sports.
The academy aims to engage 500 persons with disabilities (PWDs) in 10 different sports.
Mr Marcus Tan, chief of SportSG's Sport Development Group, said he hopes to spark an interest in sports among PWDs and develop talent.
"We hope to increase the opportunities and access for PWDs to live active and pursue high performance sport if they wish to."
Those with potential may be scouted by the Singapore Disability Sports Council, the national sports body for the disabled in Singapore.
The academy is open to PWDs interested in sports, whether or not they have experience in the sport.
The first phase of the academy's roll-out features cerebral palsy football, para canoe, para athletics, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis and para swimming.
Four other sports - para badminton, para table tennis, wheelchair rugby and futsal - will be rolled out progressively in the coming months.
The academy was formed as part of the Disability Sports Masterplan launched in 2016.
Over 18,000 PWDs have benefited from the masterplan, which also includes a scheme engaging social service agencies to involve more PWDs in sports.
The SportSG's scheme, which was launched last year, has partnered with 18 institutions - 16 under the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) and two under the Association for Persons with Special Needs.
Called the Social Service Corporate Membership scheme, it provides the agencies with $1,000 worth of ActiveSG credit that can be used to book its facilities and programmes.
SportSG also works with the organisations to come up with regular programmes that are based on the beneficiaries' needs or disabilities. For instance, it has designed a football programme with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore.
Mr Kelvin Koh, chief executive of Minds, said about 3,000 of the 3,500 PWDs that Minds serves, including students and adults, have already signed up under the scheme.
"Keeping fit is important for persons with intellectual disabilities not just because it is good to keep fit, but also for them to hold a job and sustain employment, for example one that requires them to stand for long periods."
Citing caregivers' worry of what will happen to their child when the parents are gone, he said Minds works to help them be independent as well as improve their quality of life. "They can, if we give them a chance, also be contributors to society."
He added: "If we take some time to understand their interests and aspirations, we can use that to motivate them."
He gave the example of a boy who cannot grasp the concept of timing, but trained hard at swimming once he learnt this would allow him to travel overseas for competitions.
Ms Eunice Quah, who is in her 60s, and has been volunteering with a wheelchair rugby team for six years, said: "The players are so excited to play the sport. It becomes their ability, it becomes their strength.
"They are very courageous, they don't let disability deter them from playing this sport."
Over 400 PWDs will attend the sports tryouts held over three days, the launch of which was attended by Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth Eric Chua.
Apart from PWDs, SportCares also supports vulnerable seniors and at-risk youth through initiatives like recreational sports programmes and competitions.