I have wanted to broach this subject for a very long time. As you may know, I am a former wheelchair tennis player, having won a silver medal at the ParaPan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007 with my partner Rejane Candida, playing doubles.
I have since become heavily involved as an activist for inclusion within the fashion industry – and will soon be launching my own accessible clothing brand, as well as giving frequent talks at universities, schools and conferences. Alongside this, I am also a Proud Paralympian Leader, working in collaboration with the Agitos Foundation and the IPC. Together we travel the world inspiring and teaching young athletes about the values and ethos of our movement. It is a beautiful and hugely important programme to be a part of.
Having now worked closely within both sport and fashion, it is evident that the latter has a lot of catching up to do in terms of inclusivity. The other day, I began thinking about a possible collaboration between a Parallel Inclusive Movement and fashion designers, with the hope of bringing more visibility to disabled models. However, it was here that I stopped in my tracks, and asked myself: why would I want to create a separate movement solely for disabled people. This would be entirely counterproductive – because I believe in a society whereby every human being, regardless of ability, race, gender and age, can co exist. This brought me back to the division between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Of course, there is no denying the incredible work the IPC has done for disabled people – everything from the sports we play, to the medals we are awarded, and recognition of the disabled athletes as athletes- and for that I am eternally grateful. However, living in the 21st century world of constant progress and reform, I cannot help but wonder why we need to separate these games in terms of ability? How would we feel about it being separated on the basis of gender or race? Perhaps it is purely a logistical issue? But most things are in some way a logistical issue, and most things can usually be solved.
As you begin asking these questions, it quickly becomes clear that disability is not actually the problem here at all – but instead the way society has taught us to think about it. Like most societal change, the foundations must begin in education. We need to teach children that difference is something to be celebrated, and difference is what makes our world the diverse, exciting place that it is.
I have been a wheelchair user now for twenty six years. I don’t want to be sixty years old and still having to talk about the same issues. The solution is clear and the solution is waiting for us. Let’s make inequality something of yesterday, and not for tomorrow.