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The vast majority of Beijing residents are aware of the Paralympic Games and want to become volunteers, a survey has revealed.


More than 99 percent of residents polled in the capital knew about the event and nearly 80 percent of them are willing to work as volunteers for the Games, according to the survey conducted by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG) and the Beijing Disabled Persons Federation. BOCOG is the first Olympic organization to simultaneously organize a summer Olympic Games and a Paralympic Games.


The survey from April to July covered a sample of more than 2,000 Beijing residents aged between 18 and 60 from all walks of life, and 24 of the respondents were persons with a disability.


Television is the leading way for people to get to know about the Paralympics, with more than 33 per cent of the respondents saying they mainly relied on the source to get related information, followed by 21.9 percent who listed newspapers and 21.1 percent who cited the Internet.


Although nearly all Beijing residents know about the Paralympic Games, only about 56 percent are interested in it, according to the survey. Among those who are interested, 58 percent said they follow it because of the inspiration that athletes with a disability can bring to them; 22 percent said because they enjoyed watching sports matches; and 18 percent said because of their concern and compassion towards people with a disability.


About 78.8 percent of the respondents expressed their willingness to become Paralympic volunteers. However, half of them are worried that they do not have basic knowledge and necessary skills of how to support athletes with a disability, such as how to communicate with people who cannot hear, how to guide the visually impaired, or how to help push a wheelchair.


Just over 44 percent said, however, they would find difficulty in finding the time to help.


Recruiting volunteers


The high percentage of people willing to help the athletes with a disability is encouraging. However, how to translate it to real terms when recruiting volunteers is a problem that needs great attention, according to officials with the Volunteer Department of BOCOG.


About 51 percent of the respondents who are willing to become volunteers are company employees, while 22 percent are college students.


BOCOG officials said they were considering working with government agencies to draft some favorable policies to encourage companies and universities to support their employees and students to serve the Paralympics.


Training of volunteers is another urgent and complicated task. Most of the respondents believe that knowledge of disabilities, how best to support them and foreign languages are the top three attributes needed.


About 80 percent of those polled have studied English, and 4 percent have knowledge of other foreign languages, such as French, Japanese, German, Russian and Spanish. However, among those who know a foreign language, only 4 percent have mastered it, and 14 percent can speak and write to a good level. The remainder can only speak and write some basic words and sentences.


Apart from language training, volunteers also need to get a deeper understanding of the support needed by athletes with a disability, and avoid saying or doing anything that could damage their self-esteem. For instance, volunteers should get their approval before helping them.


Zhao Jihua, a former member of the executive council of the China Disabled Persons Federation, who has organized many sports meetings for the disabled, said respondents' concerns over how best to support the athletes related to the general lack of understanding of people with a disability and the world they live in.


"As long as you treat them as you would your own relatives or friends, and try not to take pity on them but treat them as equals, then you will be able to give proper help to them rather than making them feel uneasy," Zhao said.


"I'm glad to see that so many people are willing to serve for the Paralympics, and their work will help draw the whole nation's attention to the difficulties faced by disabled people in China."


During the Summer Olympics and the Paralympics in 2008, Beijing needs around 100,000 volunteers, and about 30,000 of them will work for the Paralympic Games.


BOCOG has worked out a volunteer recruitment program according to its Strategic Plan and Action Plan for the Beijing 2008 Games, drawing on the successful experiences of previous Games in these areas. The volunteer program also offers a chance for persons with a disability to serve the Games directly.


"About 100 to 200 of the volunteers for the Beijing Paralympic Games will be persons with a disability," said Ma Dajun, vice board chairman of the Beijing Disabled Persons Federation. "They may participate in varied jobs such as interpretation, computer work and massage."


The Beijing Paralympic Games will be held between September 6 and 17, 2008. With the most sports competitions in its history, it will feature a total of 20 sports. Of the total, 18 sports will be held in Beijing, with the sailing events contested in Qingdao in east China's Shandong Province and the equestrian events in Hong Kong.


(China Daily August 11, 2006)

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