“Sustainability Meetup” is a study group started to stimulate thinking about how we want to be in the future, and it does so by inviting pioneer activists working to solve social issues as guest speakers. The speaker at the group’s second meeting was Ms. Miki Matheson, who is a member of the Education Committee of both the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Amid increasing diversification in society, this meeting was an opportunity to consider the state of and issues in Japanese education, and here we present some of the ideas that came out of the study group and the opinions aired by participating employees.

Ms. Miki Matheson
While a student at Tokyo Gakugei University, Ms. Matheson was involved in a traffic accident that let her with spinal cord damage. She subsequently entered the world of para-sports and won gold and silver medals in the ice sledge speed racing event at the 1998 Nagano Winter Paralympics. She is now a resident of Canada after marrying a Canadian para ice hockey athlete. Using her experience as an elementary school teacher in Canada, she is involved in activities to educate and raise awareness toward the creation of a more inclusive society.

The “impossible” becomes “possible” with a little inventiveness and a different viewpoint

Ahead of its hosting of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, it is said that Japan is making progress on becoming more barrier free and that the thinking behind the SGDs of “leave no one behind” is gaining wider acceptance. But what is the situation really like?

Employees with a strong interest in social issues voluntarily gathered on 26 November 2019 for an internal educational event.

Ms. Matheson is active in trying to create a more inclusive society in which future generations inhabit a more diverse society in which anyone can “live well.” The hosting of the Paralympics is a major opportunity to that end, and Ms. Matheson talked about her own experiences.

Around 100 employees took part in the event, with participants at the main event space in the Tama office in Tokyo being joined via teleconference link by others in offices as far apart as Shinjuku, Jinbocho, and Okayama.

“I was a university student dreaming of becoming a physical education teacher when I had my accident and began life in a wheelchair. At first I was very gloomy about my future life prospects, but after seeing wheelchair basketball I decided to give my favorite sports another try, and entered the world of para-sports.”

“A lot of people’s image of the Paralympics is probably “How sad, that looks really hard for them”, but my own experiences of competing and watching other athletes significantly changed my opinion. When I see a totally blind skier or an archer with no hands, I say, “That’s amazing, so cool.” The Paralympics give me a sense of the possibilities of human beings.”
Ms. Matheson is currently working to develop and disseminate the “I’mPOSSIBLE”* educational materials about the Paralympics.

“The title of these materials changes “impossible” to “I’mPOSSIBLE” just by the addition of an apostrophe. This illustrates that a previously negative view can be changed to a positive one simply by using a little inventiveness and taking a different viewpoint. I believe that if more children take this approach we can change society, and that’s why I’m involved in the campaign.”

*The Japanese version of the IPC’s “I’mPOSSIBLE” educational materials. Jointly developed by The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center, Japanese Para-Sports Association, and Japanese Paralympic Committee in partnership with Benesse Foundation for Children based on the international version of the materials.

Differences between Japan and other countries: should children ask questions when they see someone in a wheelchair?

Ms. Matheson has observed differences between Japan and other countries as she travels back and forth between Japan and her home in Canada.

“I use the same wheelchair and move around in the same way wherever I am in the world, but when I am in Japan that makes me “special.” I feel invisible barriers. The biggest of these are discrimination and prejudice. What do you think creates these things?”

“The answer is education. I was shocked when I first heard this from an expert, but I knew in my heart it was true. For example, children in other countries all react the same way when they see me in my wheelchair, they say “What’s that?” In Japan, parents tell their children it is rude to point and not to stare.”

“In Canada, parents ask me if it is OK for their children to ask me questions, and that initiates a normal conversation with the children. Someone in a wheelchair and someone with disabilities are alike because they are different. It is important that we discover and learn things by spending time with people who are different to us.”

The key message is that “education can both make and change discrimination and prejudices,” and the participants in the study group all took that on board.

We want to offer “education” that takes account of diversity and says it is good for people to be different

After the study group had ended, employees told us about the various things they had learnt.

“I perhaps had just automatically accepted the validity of the idea that “everyone should be the same.” As someone involved in education, I want to move forward by not only eliminating such false ideas, but also with a focus on the idea that “it’s good that people are different.” (Ms. Satoko Matsuda, education business)

“I believe foreign toys and anime provide much more education about diversity than Japanese ones, such as Barbie in a wheelchair and an autistic child appearing on Sesame Street. As Benesse provides education from everyone from newborns to adults, I think it is important that we reflect a diverse range of people in our educational materials.” (Ms. Waka Hagita, education business)

We also talked to Ms. Yukari Komatsu from Benesse Foundation for Children, who was involved in the joint development of the Japanese version of the “I’mPOSSIBLE” educational materials.

“The Japanese version of the materials was created with a focus on making the themes of the international version easy to use and understand for Japanese teachers and children. We got a lot of advice and much deeper understanding of the themes through intensive discussions with Ms. Matheson and other members of the committee. We hope that the spread of these materials and the ideas they contain can help eliminate old ways of thinking and prejudices, and create a society in which all children can live well in the future.”

We believe this study group was an opportunity for our employees to reconsider what the educational materials they provide to children should be like amid increasing diversity in society.

Benesse intends to hold more “Sustainability Meetup” events to facilitate exchanges with pioneer activists tackling a variety of social issues. Each employee will also consider what they can do to spread to society the company’s guiding principle of “Benesse = living well.”
*We will continue to report on this website about the activities of the “Sustainability Meetup.”

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