Stephanie Dixon, who headed Canada’s team for the Tokyo Paralympics, has called on Japan to turn the excitement brought about by the Games into a legacy toward becoming more inclusive.
During the Paralympics, “athletes are superstars … winning medals, and then go home and face discrimination,” Dixon said in a recent interview.
The former Paralympic swimmer said that the legacy of the Tokyo Games should be Japan becoming more aware of people with disabilities and the barriers they face and realizing a more inclusive society.
Dixon, who was born without her right leg, made her Paralympic debut at age 16 at the 2000 Sydney Games. She won 19 medals in her Paralympic career.
After retiring from competitive swimming, Dixon started her career as a coach while continuing to be involved in the parasports community.
She said she believes that Paralympic athletes and their stories have the power to “inspire people” and “help change attitudes and the way people view disabilities and what success looks like.”
Dixon started swimming when she was 2 years old. “I’ve always felt like a mermaid … under the water,” she said.
However, as she entered her teens, she started facing the reality of being the object of pity and discrimination, as well as social barriers for people with disabilities. “I really struggled to be proud of myself,” Dixon recalled.
What opened her eyes was parasports. The Paralympics are “a really good example of people with disabilities who have been able to achieve amazing heights with their bodies then and their spirit,” Dixon said.
While noting that it is “great progress” that the Paralympics are expanding and attracting more and more attention, she said there has been little progress in the day-to-day life of people with disabilities.
“We can’t just have the world being excited and celebrating people with disabilities only at the Paralympic Games, it has to be everywhere every day for all people,” she said.
During the Tokyo Paralympics, which were held without spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dixon said she was able to feel support from Japanese people when she saw, from a bus, people waving and cheering for her and other athletes.
Meanwhile, she noted that transportation in the country was “a bit of challenge” in terms of accessibility. “I’m hoping that the Paralympic Games will help to move accessibility in Japan forward,” she said.
She expressed her hope that the Tokyo Paralympics will inspire Japan to “become more inclusive and accessible.”
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