The world on Sunday is celebrating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a day first proclaimed in 1992 by the United Nations.
Abdullah Ozturk won a gold medal in table tennis in the 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and was crowned with the Men’s Singles Class 4 title.
Now serving as a coach of future Paralympians, Ozturk has adopted a principle in his teaching: To implant the idea of living independently.
“The first thing we teach our athletes is to meet their own needs independent of their parents,” Ozturk told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
“Disabled people should learn to survive by themselves,” said the 28-year-old former gold medalist.
Describing table tennis as the “center” of his life, Ozturk said he owed everything he has -- including his education, job, and standard of living -- to the sport.
“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.
He encourages the disabled, regardless of the level of their disability, to take part in life fully.
“Never give up, set a goal, and follow it,” he urged.
1 in 7 people worldwide
Today, of the world’s over 7 billion people, more than one billion, or some 15 percent, live with some form of disability, according to the UN.
The annual observance of the international day aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to promote awareness of the situation of people with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.
In 2017, the UN is marking the day with the theme of “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all.”
Ali Ozturk, Abdullah’s brother, also a Paralympian, won a bronze medal in table tennis in Rio along with his older brother and his teammate Nesim Turan.
He dismisses the label “disabled,” saying: “It doesn’t count for me.”
“I don’t see myself as disabled,” said Ozturk, citing his ability to do everything a non-disabled person can.
The 24-year-old European champion, who won a gold medal with the same team at the 2016 Lignano Master Open in Italy, stressed that parents should prompt urge their children to engage in whatever activity strikes their fancy, including art, dancing, and sports.
Calling sports “essential” for disabled people, the younger Ozturk said it is a way to mix with society, which sometimes keep disabled people at a distance.
The champion brothers vowed to strive to win more medals.
Abdullah Ozturk said that disabled people have advantages over the non-disabled in some areas of life.
“So I feel very lucky,” he added.