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Four Young Para Athletes Speak at a Talk Event Regarding the Role of Paralympians in Society

The "Taking on the Challenge of Tokyo 2020" Talk Event took place in February at the Mainichi Hall in Chiyoda City, Tokyo. The event is a series hosted by Mainichi Shimbun for the promotion of Tokyo 2020. This was the third in the series, co-hosted with the Japanese Para-Sports Association and Japanese Paralympic Committee (JPC).

Part One featured a lecture regarding "Educational material I'm Possible and its possibilities" by Naoe Yasuoka, International Liaison Manager of JPC. Part Two, titled "Taking on the Challenge of Tokyo 2020," was a conversation between four young athletes who are expected to attend the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and Kuniko Obinata, delegation leader for the Japan Team at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games. They talked about the impact Paralympians have on society and other topics.

Young para athletes and Kuniko Obinata (right), delegation leader of the Japan Team at the PyeongChang Paralympic Games

To sell out the venues like in London, education is key

"By adding a simple apostrophe to the word Impossible, you get I'm possible. This title contains the meaning that, with a little thought and creativity, something that used to be impossible can become possible."
These were the opening words of JPC's Yasuoka in her Part One lecture, making the 150 people in the audience nod in agreement. The theme of the lecture was "Educational material I'm Possible and its possibilities." I'm Possible is the educational material developed by the International Paralympic Committee, designed to communicate two ideas: the "Value of the Paralympics" and "Para Sports." They are taught in two classes, one in the classroom and one actually playing Paralympic sports, and include a "classroom guide" for teachers. The kits have already been distributed to elementary and other schools.

Yasuoka of JPC explains the motivation behind the development of the material

Yasuoka was involved in the development of the Japanese edition of the material. She said they were careful to "Create a set of materials that are usable to teachers who don't have much knowledge regarding the Paralympics, so as not to add to the work load of teachers who are already busy."
The reason why JPC and others are putting effort into Paralympic education is because they are currently incorporating the practices and efforts that helped sell out venues at the 2012 London Paralympics.
She concluded Part One with the words, "They say the children talked to their families about what they learned at school, and the families went out to watch the events. We hope to continue developing the material so that many spectators with high awareness come to Tokyo 2020 and cheer on the performances of the para athletes."

"Para sports are a shortcut to having able-bodied people better understand people with an impairment." (Hangai, Judo)

Under the theme "Taking on the Challenge of Tokyo 2020," Part Two featured Obinata, delegation leader of the Japan Team at the PyeongChang Paralympics, and four young athletes: Hajimu Ashida (Athletics / functional impairment in upper right limb), Yuuki Morishita (Swimming / left forearm deficiency), Kouyou Iwabuchi (Table Tennis / functional impairment in lower limbs) and Shizuka Hangai (Judo / visual impairment). The emcee was Junichi Kawai of the Paralympians Association of Japan. It was a very lively talk show.
The four athletes announced their goals of getting a medal at Tokyo 2020. Kawai said, "The Tokyo Paralympics aims for diversity and harmony, and ultimately an inclusive society. As Paralympians, do you think it is your duty to think and act accordingly?" to which the athletes responded energetically.

Paralympian Morishita attended a regular school.

Morishita, the youngest of the panelists, is currently a student of welfare studies at Showa Women's University. She stressed the power of sports in inclusivity.
"I grew up going to a regular school, but there are still too few opportunities in Japan for people with and without impairments to do things together. With sports, however, there are many ways we can watch or play sports together. I think they are a great way to connect through sharing."

Table tennis player Iwabuchi has toured the world

After hearing Morishita's words, Iwabuchi pointed out the difference between Japan and the rest of the world.
"There is a difference in an understanding of impairment between Japan and the rest of the world. In other countries, many people can talk to people with an impairment in a natural way. In Japan, I feel that people are either indifferent or make too much of an effort. A more natural approach would make both sides happier."

Ashida continued with a comment on the social contribution of Paralympians. Ashida has around 50 speaking engagements a year. He first made the audience laugh by saying, "I am a bit of a narcissist," then continued, "The job of Paralympians is to get results and make others think we are cool. Creating value after victory brings us one step closer to an inclusive society." He believes that when he performs well and is seen more, this promotes the existence of minorities and helps create a society in which anyone, regardless of differences, can shine.

Ashida livened up the venue with his fun talk

Blind athlete Hangai noted that in order for able-bodied people to better understand people with an impairment, "the first thing is to have them understand the impairment. For this, people with an impairment must share information more." Hangai practices with able-bodied athletes, and says she makes an effort on a daily basis to let her practice partners know what kind of support she needs.

"It may look like they are throwing me without reservation. (laughs) But I need it and ask for it. If I tell them what I need and what I don't, and if they understand, we can practice without reservation."
Because of this experience, Hangai says, "Para sports are a shortcut to having able-bodied people better understand people with an impairment."

Blind judoka and Paralympian Hangai

The talk show continued for about an hour, with a focus on the keyword "inclusive." When it was time to wrap up, emcee Kawai addressed the audience: "I believe you all felt the power of these young athletes' words. They have two common characteristics, one as athletes and the other as people with impairments, and as such they have a powerful message. I believe this is the attraction and the value of the Paralympics." The speakers then left the stage amidst a big round of applause.

Around 150 people came to the event

text & photo by TEAM A
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