Japanese Paralympic Committee vice president: Paralympics a watershed moment for para sports in Japan

Hidefumi Takahashi says “I think we have seen the change in society, thanks to the support of the media in improving the interest in the Paralympic activities, and the corporations who are supporting this.”

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 24, 2021. Japan athletes during the parade at the opening ceremony Joel Marklund/OIS/Handout via REUTERS  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - August 24, 2021. Japan athletes during the parade at the opening ceremony Joel Marklund/OIS/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

TOKYO - Japanese Paralympic Committee Vice President Hidefumi Takahashi believes the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics is already actively changing Japanese society.

Host nation Japan, which has become the first country to host the Paralympics twice, is one of the world’s most literate and technically advanced nations and has the world’s third-largest economy but has lagged behind other leading nations in terms of disability inclusion.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, Takahashi, spoke of how Japan, where people with disabilities currently account for about 8% of Japan’s population, is already seeing a societal difference just a few days into the Paralympic Games.

“I think we have seen the change in society, thanks to the support of the media in improving the interest in the Paralympic activities, and the corporations who are supporting this.

“We are seeing more para sport and education at school so I think the Paralympic Games are very powerful. Our ambition is to change society and realize an inclusive society through sport.”

The Japan Para Championships is traditionally the highest profile disability event in Japan and has been pivotal in promoting the Paralympic Movement and identifying and developing para sports athletes.

“The Japan Para Championships featured five sports (athletics, swimming, goalball, boccia and wheelchair rugby). This is one of the main pillars of our activities. Through these Games we made sure that people can watch, experience and enjoy para sports.

“Also, in 2019 we held the World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge for the top eight countries. It was watched by 37,500 spectators and has created its own movement.

“To increase the number of fans of para sports we work together with business, schools and local communities. We ask businesses to help us with volunteers.”

An ongoing schools program created by the International Paralympic Committee is used as an education tool in Japan and Takahashi thinks that scheme will now work in conjunction with children seeing the success of you Japanese Paralympian’s at Tokyo 2020.

“In schools we use (the IPC Official Educational Program) ‘I’m POSSIBLE’ to give para sport education to children. And for local communities we work with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to further promote para sport.

Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Swimming - Women's 100m Backstroke - S2 Medal Ceremony– Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - August 25, 2021. Silver medalist, Miyuki Yamada of Japan, celebrates on the podium REUTERS/Molly Darlington
Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games - Swimming - Women's 100m Backstroke - S2 Medal Ceremony– Tokyo Aquatics Centre, Tokyo, Japan - August 25, 2021. Silver medalist, Miyuki Yamada of Japan, celebrates on the podium REUTERS/Molly Darlington

“We are trying to promote para sports and at the same time we are nurturing world-class para athletes. On the first competition day of the Paralympic Games a 14-year-old swimmer won the silver medal - her name is Yamada Miyuki, we want to keep on finding new talent like her.”

Tokyo Metropolitan Government official Katsura Enyo explained the changes the host city has undergone in the efforts to make the capital more inclusive and accessible.

“As the host city, the Paralympics has great significance for us. That’s because the Paralympics has the power to change society. We want to make sure that Tokyo is a city where everyone, including the disabled, can live in harmony.

“In terms of accessibility, Tokyo has created six new venues and renovated six venues for the Games. We made sure that these venues have the best accessibility standards.”

Enyo added: “We worked with people with impairments to make sure their requirements were reflected in the design. For example, we spread out the wheelchair seating areas in the venues because of a comment that was made by wheelchair users that they want to choose where they sit.

“For the accessible toilets, they tend to get overcrowded. We realized that we should have different types of disabled toilets - some for wheelchair users, some for users with other disabilities.

“We have also worked on accessibility at our train stations, on tactile walking surfaces at our competition venues and we have made 3200 guest rooms in our hotels accessible.”

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