By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), hopes Tokyo 2020 will spark a change in perceptions of people with disabilities in Japan.
Sunday marks a year to go until the start of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which run from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, and Parsons, who took over as IPC president in 2017, is confident the Games will have a lasting impact beyond the 13 days of sporting action.
Parsons told Reuters in a telephone interview that he thought both Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were on the same page when it came to the legacy of the Paralympics.
“I believe that Governor Yuriko Koike and Prime Minister Abe are serious when they talk about legacy,” said Parsons.
“The first thing is that they accept, and this is really important, they accept that they need to improve even in an advanced society.”
For Parsons, this means changing Japanese society’s perceptions of what people with disabilities are capable of. The Brazilian said he wanted the Paralympics to shine as an example of what they can achieve.
“We have been visiting Japan since 2013 very often and what we realize is the perception of Japanese people to those with disabilities is one of over-protection,” said Parsons.
“You don’t see many people with disabilities on the streets of Tokyo.
“To show to Japan the feats of our athletes, who can do things that was previously thought impossible, will change key things in the mind of Japanese society that people with disabilities can do everything.
“They can be productive citizens, they can work, they can study and can go out there and do anything anybody else can do.”
The ticket pricing structure has been created with a view to attracting as many young people to attend Paralympic events as possible, which includes seats as cheap as 900 JYP (US$8.55).
“This is why we want to encourage youth to come to venues and see Paralympic athletes, said Parsons.
“Then the change is there when they are adults and making decisions, not only on a political level but also at a business and service level, where people will have a different perceptions of people with disabilities.”
Governor Koike has said she wanted one of the legacies of the Paralympics to be that “anyone can easily and comfortably visit the city” but one remaining concern in the run-up is making sure there are enough wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms in Tokyo during and after the Games.
An estimated 4,400 Para athletes, including 1,800 in wheelchairs, are expected to arrive in Tokyo for the event.
While those athletes will be housed in the wheelchair-friendly village, the Tokyo metropolitan government says 850 accessible hotel rooms will be needed for support staff, media and other stakeholders.
It is currently 300 rooms short of that number.
“Accessible accommodation in hotels is something that is a low point for the country and they need to address that,” added Parsons.
“We are addressing it together and the legislation is being changed.”
Japanese laws require hotels with 50 or more rooms to have at least one wheelchair-accessible option available. Legislation coming into effect after the Games will stipulate that at least one percent of all rooms in a hotel are wheelchair-friendly.
“This will not affect the Games, this is for the future, for legacy, but it is the first tangible legacy of the Games that the legislation is changing in Japan,” added Parsons.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)