Miki Matheson – Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Centre, Tokyo

When I reflect on the time we had with the group in the UK, the first thing that came to my mind was the great group dynamics. Thank you, Ian, for providing me with an incredible opportunity to be part of the group.

As a Paralympian my view of the Paralympics is always from an athlete’s perspective which is core to the Paralympic movement. It was very intriguing to learn some approaches to the Paralympics through a different lens. During the four-day sessions, we covered many things and there were both pleasing and provocative findings for me. 

If I was asked to summarize all that I learned from the week with one word, “discord” or “gap” appears in my mind. For instance, the event can be a great opportunity to highlight disability issues and increase accessibility, but there are still huge gaps between ideal outcomes and reality. There is discord between elite athletes with disability’s success at the Games and the increase in the number of sport participations by people with disabilities. There is not enough evidence of embracing the power of the event to create new opportunities for participation and accessible society. The resourcing of legacy evaluation has been a part of the bidding agenda for many years, and yet there is huge gap between allocated resources (if any) to evaluate legacies of Paralympic Games and necessary resources. Legacies need to be evaluated before, during and after Games with resources specifically set aside to do so, but in many cases “legacies” seem just imaginary things, not many people really seem to know what that looks like or how to leave them behind after the Games.

Hosting the Paralympic Games doesn’t solve social issues like a magic pill. It is not an automatic social change resulting from the event itself, but that rather it’s a congruence of mechanism. What is needed to leave planned legacies. We have to put a clear image and roadmap so that people can just follow the models.  I think people are taking too much time to understand what the legacies could or should look like and not spending enough time to make the ideas into reality.

I personally feel the need to put further research into this area which is particularly critical for Japan where disability is poorly understood and cultural contexts preclude desired levels of inclusion. It is urgent to challenge perception and change the reality of disability and inclusion. If I have to pick one thing what is most needed for Japan, it is to raise awareness of the concept of the social model of disability. I am doing this is through the education program but government officials and many other stakeholders need to understand the concept clearly to create an inclusive society properly.

We all agree that the Paralympic Games have tremendous opportunity to impact our society. On the bottom line, I am hoping more of the positive impact will be focused on but we cannot deny there are some negative impact caused by the Paralympics. I would love to see that the Games are vehicle for the socially vulnerable to become active participants of society.  Decision makers won’t move until they are convinced by strong data. Academic knowledge and research are desperately needed.

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