Asian Para Games 2018, Athletes’ Fight for Equality

Denty Piawai Nastitie
6 min readMar 31, 2022

Text and photograph By DENTY PIAWAI NASTITIE

5 October 2018 21:21 WIB 6 minutes read

The main goals of the Indonesian team joining the Asian Para Games, from 6 to 13 October 2018, are not only to win medals, get their achievements, or fulfill their ambitions, but also to be the fastest and the strongest in the arena to fight for equality and justice.

The Asian Para Games will be held in Jakarta, from 6 to 13 October 2018. There are 43 countries throughout Asia participating in this event with a total of 2,762 athletes, plus coaches, coaches’ assistants, and officials team. The “Merah Putih” team sent 295 athletes to compete in 18 sports. There will be 512 tournaments with medals and 16 tournaments without medals.

Like some of the other athletes who initially lived a normal life, Jaenal Aripin faced the darkest time of his life after having two of his legs amputated due to a motorcycle accident, 12 years ago. It took a long time for this former factory employee to recover his spirit and confidence.

Jaenal said that after the accident, many people looked down on him. “Many people underestimate me and wonder how my life would be. From that moment on, I tried to get up, trying to prove that despite these limitations, I still can work,” he said.

After trying his luck by selling phone credit and opening a motorcycle repair shop, Jaenal is indulging himself in athletics. The sport that he has been involved in since 2014 has led Jaenal to become one of Indonesia’s mainstay athletes with disabilities. Jaenal is now ranked in the world’s top 10 for the T54 category in the 100 and 200 meters races. Recently, Jaenal won the gold medal at the 2018 World Championships.

According to Jaenal, the government’s attention to people with disabilities is better than it was a few years ago. Athletes who excel at the Asian Para Games, for example, get the same bonus as those who made history at the Asian Games. “But they have to be consistent. Policies on these issues should not be changed even if there is a rotation in the government,” he said.

One-leg swimmer, Jendi Pangabean, also felt the bitterness of life after losing one leg in a motorcycle accident. He used to actively play soccer, badminton, and swimming, but it has to stop because of the accident that happened when he was 11 years old.

His strong will and the support he got from the opportunity to engage in swimming have brought Jendi to be the mainstay of the “Merah Putih” team. At the 2017 ASEAN Para Games, Jendi won five gold with four new records. After becoming an athlete, Jendi felt his life has changed and turned in a better direction.

“I used to be a nobody. I was born in a lower-class family. My parents are just rubber workers. Now, my financial situation is better. I can be independent and support the lives of my parents and younger siblings,” said the athlete from Muara Enim Regency, South Sumatra.

He also feels more confident ever since becoming an athlete. “Everywhere I go, I feel confident. People stare at me, but I don’t care. What I’ve been through is not easy. I used to be at a low point, but now everything has changed,” he said.

Long jump athlete, Setyo Budi Hartanto (T47), said that people with disabilities experience obstacles in almost every phase of life. Non-disabled people often underestimate those with special needs. “We are often seen as beggars. Even if we want to buy a vehicle, we don’t get the service like the others. At the education level, we are often isolated, separated, and grouped differently,” he said.

According to Setyo, the community must have a new perspective on viewing disability issues. “People should not focus on seeing a person’s shortcomings, but more on the ardor to progress and develop, they need to see our strength,” he said.

One-armed runner Nanda Mei Solihah (19), said that life as a person with a disability is not easy. She is often underestimated, belittled, shunned, and even rejected by society. “When I was in kindergarten, several schools refused to accept me because I had physical limitations. At that time, my mother carried me home crying because she couldn’t stand the rejection,” she said.

Not only was Nanda refused to go to school, but she was also once recommended to enter a school for special needs children (SLB) because she was considered mentally retarded. “My grandmother was furious. I do have physical limitations, but that doesn’t mean I have a mental disorder,” he said.

Living with physical limitations since birth had made Nanda feel inferior. However, she refused to give up. When she was in the fifth grade of elementary school, the Chairman of the National Paralympic Committee (NPC) of the City of Kediri Karmani invited Nanda to get involved and practice athletics. “Nanda, do you want to join athletics? It can be your ticket to get on the airplane and go abroad,” said Nanda, repeating Karmani’s words.

Nanda had doubts about it. She remembered her father, Suprianto (45), who was a coconut trader in the market. Economic limitations made it difficult for Nanda to ever imagine having the experience to travel abroad. However, with the encouragement of her mother, Rini Suwarni (37), Nanda was willing to practice athletics. “My mother said, maybe this is indeed my gift,” said Nanda.

After two months of athletic training, for the first time, Nanda joined in the Mayor’s Cup championship in Surabaya. In her first appearance, she achieved the gold medal.

As her performance gets better, Nanda makes her dream of competing at the international level come true. She made her debut at the 2015 ASEAN Para Games in Singapore. At that time, Nanda brought home three gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter runs, and long jump sport. Two years later in Malaysia, Nanda gained another success by winning three gold medals.

For this State High School 7 Kediri graduate, achievements in the field of sports have increased her self-confidence. She also had the opportunity to join the National Training Center and pocketed a bonus.

At the 2018 Asian Para Games, Nanda was registered in the T47 competition category (upper limb limitation). In the test event, Nanda won the gold medal in the 200-meter run after setting a time of 28.25 seconds. She ran faster than fellow national training athlete Wahyu Nur Saputri.

The fight for equality was also carried out by badminton players Ukun Rukaendi (48), Harry Susanto (48), and Leani Ratri Oktila (27). They struggle to overcome their barriers to show that they exist, that they are able despite their limitations.

According to the 2011 National Labor Force Survey, the total population of Indonesia is 237,641,326 people with a total working-age population of 171,755,077 people. In line with World Health Organization (WHO) calculations, it is estimated that 10 percent of Indonesia’s population (24 million people) are persons with disabilities (quoted from

Head of the Social Rehabilitation Center for Bina Daksa (BBRSBD) Prof. Dr. Soeharso, Bambang Sugeng, said that people with special needs are often considered a disgrace, ostracized in association, and other people’s problems due to the lack of understanding of the community and the government in viewing disability issues.

Ukun said he was motivated to become an athlete because he wanted to get the same achievement opportunities as other people. “Even though we have physical limitations, we want to participate to make our country proud,” said the former teacher in Garut Regency, West Java.

Based on the Disability Law, ministries, institutions, local governments, private companies, and the community must respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of people with disabilities. However, in reality, it’s still not optimized. Accessibility for people with disabilities, for example, is still not met.

Bambang Sugeng said that people with special needs are often seen as a source of disgrace, ostracised in association, and other problems due to a lack of understanding between the community and the government in viewing disability issues. In addition to understanding, commitment is also needed in fulfilling the rights of people with disabilities which have been neglected.

“Even though there is a Disability Law, its implementation is not that easy. Local governments have their priority programs, so they haven’t focused on accessibility issues. It’s one of the problems that we face until this day,” said Bambang.

According to Bambang, Indonesia will benefit from hosting the Asian Para Games. “Athletes with disabilities who joined at the 2018 Asian Para Games show that limitations are not an obstacle to get achievements. People with special needs, as the components of social diversity, can play an active role to make the country proud and support their country’s development. It takes great care and equality, not just compassion, to eliminate the barriers faced by people with disabilities,” he said in Solo, Central Java, in mid-September. –