Jessica Smith runs alongside Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum at the Dubai Run 2023.

Dubai: The need of the hour is to destigmatise conversations around disabilities, says Jessica Smith, former Paralympian and Disability Inclusion Consultant.

She discussed in a Tell Me Why podcast episode recorded earlier this month the importance of having conversations about disability inclusion with children at a very young age and igniting the level of curiosity that kids 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 discussed how her journey as a Paralympian began at a young age.

“I was able to focus a lot of my time and energy on how I was going to prove to the world that I wouldn’t be limited by my disability,” said Smith. “And the obvious way for me to do that was through movement and sports and exercise, and I fell in love with all sorts of sports, but in particular swimming.”

Competing in first event

She recalled competing in her first school event at just 10 years old, and the exhilarating feeling of beating ‘all the boys and girls with two hands’ because for the first time in her life, she was acknowledged 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 will continue doing this,” said Smith. “That’s how my swimming career started.”

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

Jessica Smith photo-1701183060692
Jessica Smith, former Paralympian and Disability Inclusion Consultant, during an awareness session with children. Image Credit: Supplied

Trusting abilities

Smith shared that oftentimes times she doubted herself and her potential because people didn’t trust her abilities enough to take a chance.

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

As a result, the ASICS Frontrunner noticed an opportunity to talk about the complexities of diversity and inclusion since she felt that disability was seldom discussed in such conversations.

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“I talk to children as young as 4 years old, right through to C-suite executives and board members about the importance of disability inclusion whether in society or within an organization,” said Smith.

“It’s the same message, for all of that audience, just told in a slightly different way,” she added. Working heavily with children, Smith encourages her younger audiences to ask questions and be honest to destigmatize conversations surrounding disabilities.

“Let’s give our children the opportunity to have those discussions at a much younger age so that these awkward conversations aren’t taking place when we’re in our 20s 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s,” she explained.

Tune in to this week’s Tell Me Why podcast episode to find out more about Jessica Smith’s journey as a Disability Inclusion Consultant here in the UAE.

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