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“Give recognition to those with disabilities”
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“Give recognition to those with disabilities”

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Rahaun Watson photoSports have given athletes the platform to be recognized and make a valuable contribution to their country, writes Rashaun Watson, 22, a Correspondent from Portmore, Jamaica, as he reflects on the performance of his country’s athletes at the World Special Olympics.

Jamaica, over the years, has continued to exercise its prowess in various sporting disciplines from track and field to ice hockey more recently. Irrespective of the sporting discipline, the nation has produced talented athletes who have risen above the challenges of limited resources or financial constraints to land success at international events.

However, our exploits at the World Special Olympics are of significant importance as we mark our 53rd year of independence. The series of competitive events unfolded in California, United States, and saw athletes from over 160 counties participating. The Special Olympics movement aims to provide year-round training and competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with disabilities. The disabilities can be acquired or genetic, and include cases of Down’s syndrome, autism, traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy. An event of this magnitude offers the platform for a community of individuals who are often ostracised and even ridiculed to clear the misconceptions many persons have of them.

Special Olympians are just as capable of making their mark in the sporting arena as other athletes. The Jamaican contingent copped a total of 29 individual and team medals, including ten gold, 11 silver and eight bronze. Such a performance can only be described as phenomenal.  To celebrate their performance, the Jamaican delegation sat in the front row nearest to the presentation stage as the curtains were brought down on the 2015 Summer Games.

Jamaica being an independent nation for over half a century, the athletes’ performance is indicative that the country is heading in the right direction as far as acceptance and inclusion for all people with disabilities is concerned. It has been a challenge integrating the disabled community into mainstream society, as many persons still underestimate their potential and blatantly show their disapproval with snide remarks or even disrespectful stares.

However, the building of ramps to facilitate access to public buildings, designated parking spots, and special buses to facilitate transportation are positive signs that, as a nation, we are taking special needs into consideration. More recently, persons with disabilities have been receiving training and are now gaining meaningful employment in avenues such as furniture making and telecommunications. Even in the educational landscape, it is impressive to see visually impaired students on various university campuses pursing tertiary level education. There is still more to be done to solidify full integration into the society, but recognition must be given to the deliberate efforts made to achieve this. Commendations must be given to the team that worked tirelessly in preparing the athletes for the games.

The performance of these athletes should be highlighted and diffused across the globe for greater acceptance of persons with disabilities in mainstream society. As a child, I would feel sympathy for anyone I saw with a disability, as I would be conscious of their limited opportunity to make their mark on society. Today, these people are a source of inspiration as they have proven to the world that having a disability does not equal an inability to succeed.  Instead, it is a gift with which one can achieve the imaginable; proving that what the mind can conceive, it can achieve.

It is refreshing to see the transformative potential of sports emerging.  Oftentimes the focus is on which team is best or which record will be broken, instead of how it can change the lives of those around us. Sports have given these athletes the platform to be recognized and make a valuable contribution to their country. They have worked hard and are reaping the rewards of their labour – let us commend them for their valiant efforts. As good citizens across the globe, we should never discriminate or hurt those we deem different, especially those with disabilities. Instead, we should love and appreciate their uniqueness.

photo credit: 100_5782 via photopin (license)

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About me: I am a graduate of the University of the West Indies, Mona, where I attained my degree in International Relations.

My main areas of interests are the environment, youth empowerment and policy creation. I have started to actively contribute to these areas and am encouraging other youth to do likewise.

It is my desire to make a positive impact on my country and to be a force of change within the Caribbean and the rest of the world.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response.
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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