On the 35th anniversary of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a pair of Turkish Paralympic gold medallist encouraged others with disabilities to work towards living independently of their parents and caretakers.
Since their triumph at the 2016 Paralympic as table tennis champions, Abdullah Ozturk and his brother, Ali, have turned to coaching future Paralympians.
The elder Ozturk said he owes everything he has to the sport of table tennis, from his education and job to his standard of living. This feeling of empowerment, Ozturk said, is vital and sports is one means to bridge the divide in society for young disabled children.
“We have to be active in something to show that we can exist independently in society. We need to stand on our own two feet,” he said.
“The first thing we teach our athletes is to meet their own needs independent of their parents,” Ozturk said, adding that those with disabilities should be able to survive on their own.
The pair won their medals last year with the elder arriving home from Brazil’s 2016 Summer Games after taking the Class 4 title in Men’s singles. His younger sibling competed in 2016’s Lignano Master Open in Italy, winning a gold medal with teammate Nesim Turan and a bronze in Rio de Janeiro.
"It’s important to enjoy life to its fullest and to not let handicaps hold a person back from achieving their goals," he said. His younger brother agreed, dismissing the term “disabled.”
“It doesn’t count for me. I don’t see myself as disabled,” said Ali, citing his ability to do everything. The younger paralympic champion said families should encourage their children to adopt a sport or art and engage with their classmates. He added that an active lifestyle is essential to closing the gap that usually keeps disabled people at a distance.
According to statistics from WHO, around 15.3 percent of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. However, the true figure is believed to be much higher, especially in developing countries.
The United Nations first established the day in 1992 in an effort to preserve and promote the well-being of persons with disabilities, as well as raise awareness in society. This year’s theme is “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all,” and aims to uphold the U.N. 2030 Agenda which guarantees inclusion for all