Talk to kids about disabilities, says former Paralympian Jessica Smith

Dubai: The need of the hour is to destigmatize conversations about disabilities, says Jessica Smith, former Paralympic and disability inclusion consultant.

She argued in a Tell me why The podcast episode recorded earlier this month the importance of having conversations about disability inclusion with children at a very young age and sparking the level of curiosity that children have.

Smith, who ran alongside Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, as part of the Dubai Run 2023 on Sunday, also spoke about how her journey as a Paralympic athlete began at a young age.

“I was able to focus a lot of my time and energy on how I was going to show the world that my disability would not limit me,” Smith said. “And the obvious way for me to do that was through movement, sports and exercise, and I fell in love with all kinds of sports, but swimming in particular.”

Competing in the first event

She remembered competing in her first school event when she was just 10 years old and the exciting feeling of beating ‘all the boys and girls with both hands’ because for the first time in her life she was recognized for what she could achieve.

“That was a very pivotal moment in my life, even at the age of 10, to think this makes me feel amazing, so I’m going to continue doing this,” Smith said. “That’s how my swimming career began.”

However, the Paralympic athlete’s achievements were not limited to her achievements as a professional swimmer.

Jessica Smith, former Paralympian and disability inclusion consultant, during an awareness session with children.
Image credit: supplied

Confidence skills

Smith shared that she often doubted herself and her potential because people didn’t trust her abilities enough to take risks.

“I was more disabled by my environment and the way people saw me than by my actual disability, and that puts a lot of pressure on a young person,” Smith said.

As a result, ASICS Frontrunner saw an opportunity to talk about the complexities of diversity and inclusion, as it felt disability was rarely discussed in such conversations.

“I talk to children as young as 4 years old, all the way up to high-level executives and board members about the importance of disability inclusion, whether in society or within an organization,” Smith said.

“It’s the same message, for that entire audience, just expressed in a slightly different way,” he added. Working extensively with children, Smith encourages her younger audiences to ask questions and be honest to destigmatize conversations about disabilities.

“Let’s give our kids the opportunity to have those conversations at a much younger age so that these uncomfortable conversations don’t happen when we’re in our 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s,” he explained.

Tune in to this week’s Tell Me Why podcast episode to learn more about Jessica Smith’s journey as a disability inclusion consultant here in the UAE.

Don’t miss any episode! Follow now to stay updated on the latest news. Tell me why podcast.

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