Society features

Inclusive society seen through the Paralympic Games and expectation of an inclusive Tokyo: Miki Matheson

Paralympic Games gold and silver medalist Miki Matheson educates young students about the Paralympic Games aim to promote an inclusive society through sport.

The vision of the Paralympic Games as a sporting event for people with disabilities creates an inclusive world through sport. An inclusive world can mean an inclusive or symbiotic society and refers to a society in which everyone is a part of and is respected as a member of the community, without fear of being excluded due to attributes such as gender, race , nationality, status or disability. The world as a whole has strived to create an inclusive society.

Matheson is a member of the Education Committee of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the Education Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and is involved in the development, dissemination and implementation of I’mPOSSIBLE educational materials. to create an inclusive society through Paralympic education.

Experiences in Canada push her forward

I’mPOSSIBLE is a global education program developed by the IPC to disseminate Paralympic values ​​and the vision of the Paralympic movement. Matheson was responsible for the development of its Japanese edition. It was created on the theme of the Paralympic Games to teach students how to transform their feelings from “I can’t” into “I can” and how to change their perspective to help them naturally develop an inclusive perspective. It has been distributed free of charge to approximately 36,000 schools across Japan.

An official paralympic education program I’mPOSSIBLE Japanese edition Photo: Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center

The name of the program reflects the values ​​of the Paralympic Games and the character of the para-athletes: what seems “impossible” can become “I am possible” by changing your outlook or by creating new methodologies.

It was Matheson’s own experiences that motivated her to get involved in the development of the product. Canada, where she lived shortly after becoming a wheelchair user, is a multicultural country where people of different nationalities and diverse groups of people, including people with disabilities, live together as if nothing had happened. One day, when Matheson was asked by a friend of her about her childhood dream, she told them: “I wanted to be a teacher, but it was no longer possible because I had an accident and I found myself. in a wheelchair … “Her friend was stunned. That’s because in Canada, being in a wheelchair wouldn’t prevent you from being a teacher. Rather, society recognizes everyone as an individual, and everyone can live freely. in pursuit of his own potential.

When she returns temporarily to Japan, she often feels the looks or attitudes of those around her and is reminded that she has a disability. She said that, her son walking next to her once told her, “Mom, they treat you like baggage.” Even in Tokyo, a very populous city, she rarely sees people with disabilities on the streets, and her son once told her, “Japan has advanced technology, so they had to treat everyone. Matheson’s comment that she sometimes feels uncomfortable in her hometown Tokyo leaves a deep impression.

Matheson recalls his experiences in Canada: “I realized that even if you have a disability, you can be free depending on your environment and the state of mind of the people around you. The ideal inclusive society is one in which diverse people not only live in the same community, but find their own place and are able to fulfill their mission and / or find active roles. “

The Paralympic Games and a Changing Perspective

The vision for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games stated that sport has the power to change the world and the future, and one of its core themes was “Unity in Diversity”. The achievements of para-athletes remind us of the human potential they have and the power that drives us to act. Many say they feel closer to people with disabilities through their experiences supporting the Paralympic Games.

Since the event took place in Tokyo, there have been more disability laws, barrier-free facilities around Tokyo have rapidly improved, reports and symposia on inclusion have multiplied. “One of the roles of the Paralympic Games is to remove the barriers that people with disabilities face and to let people with disabilities know that people with disabilities are just people like everyone else, and that they need to be recognized to start. get things done in the right direction. “

Nevertheless, she emphasizes, “the Paralympic Games can be a catalyst, but it is not a panacea for understanding disability and diversity”.

Athletes who participate in the Paralympic Games represent only a small percentage of the disabled population. Additionally, the event provides an environment where athletes can test their own potential, with rules, equipment and support designed to address their disabilities.

Regardless, even the gold medalists face various obstacles, like insurmountable stairs and difficulties in finding a job when they leave the stadium. It is essential to embed the ingenuity and perspective of the Paralympic Games into everyday society and to link this to changes in people’s consciousness and social systems.

“When you watch the Paralympics,” said Matheson, “you appreciate the incredible performance of the athletes. But you can also use a little imagination and think about their daily life outside of the competition. “

Childhood possibilities for inclusion

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Matheson visits educational sites across Japan to lecture on how to use the materials. Photo taken in August 2019 at a primary school in Chiba Prefecture. Photo: Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center

An inclusive society cannot be created overnight. The reason she works in disseminating educational materials for children is because she wants to encourage the creation of new and flexible ideas through children and to break down stereotypes and preconceptions of adults.

For example, when Matheson’s son was in kindergarten, the kindergarten teacher asked him to get involved as a volunteer, as there were few Asians and people in wheelchairs. While participating in the program, she saw how the children became aware of the different needs and started to act on their own, doing things like cleaning the aisles in the aisles, because “Miki is coming (in her Wheelchair) .”

The inspiring words and actions of children have the power to bring about smooth changes in the thoughts and actions of adults. It is his belief in their potential that leads him to work hard on training sessions for teachers using I’mPOSSIBLE.

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Her work with I’mPOSSIBLE continues to expand as she moves towards online teacher training courses. Photo: Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center

“Everyone has the right to enjoy their life in their own way. I hope our progress towards a more inclusive society does not end with the Tokyo 2020 Games and even maintain some momentum for as long as possible. There is a lot of room for growth in Japan. I hope when I am an old lady I can say, ‘The Tokyo Paralympics made Japan a better place to live.’ “

Miki Matheson

Born in Tokyo. She suffered a spinal injury during her freshman year at Gakugei University in Tokyo. In 1998, she was a medalist (3 gold, 1 silver) in the sledge sprint race at the Nagano Paralympic Winter Games. After graduating, she attended the University of Illinois, where she studied sports education for people with disabilities. After her marriage, she moved to Canada and gave birth to two children. Since 2015, she has been working at the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center as a project manager within the promotion strategy department.

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