The ‘prejudiced’ mindset of the people towards persons with intellectual disability (ID) needs to change, asserts Julia Fonsén, the first Finnish athlete with ID to be appointed as assistant team leader for Berlin 2023.
“The most important thing is to be able to get rid of prejudices. We need more awareness of persons with ID and the most effective way to raise awareness is to let persons with ID speak for themselves,’’ said the 26-year-old, who also feels that a lack of understanding and acceptance within the society was hampering job prospects for people with ID.
“What I have experienced is, it has been difficult to get a job because of the prejudices towards persons with ID and that needs to change,” explained Fonsén, who has represented Finland in football at the European Games in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2014, and the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles, USA, in 2015 and Abu Dhabi, UAE, in 2019.
Fonsén, who works three days a week as a care assistant in the Pellavakoti dementia unit of the Viola home association, however, attributes her accomplishments to sports and feels it is an ideal medium to make themselves heard.
“Getting a diagnosis for ID has made it possible to participate in Special Olympics which has brought plenty of good things to my life, including many friends around the world. I have been able to participate in sports both as an athlete and as representative of athletes in various roles,” said Fonsén.
Though she acknowledges the Finnish government’s efforts to get them integrated into the mainstream, in the same breath adds, “Things have been improving but there is still lots of work to be done for sure.”
What sets Fonsén apart from the rest is her will to keep pushing her limits. She has not only excelled in football but is equally good at basketball and floorball. Along with her goalkeeping duties with the fourth division club Tampereen Ilves in floorball, Fonsén also serves as an assistant coach in her local Unified basketball team Tampereen Pyrintö and continues to volunteer in Yaril sport events.
Her versatile portfolios have not only helped her grow but also increased her responsibilities to work for the betterment of fellow athletes.
Fonsén is already excited about the prospect of being the assistant team leader at the forthcoming World Games and feels her vast experience would do a world of good for the Finnish squad in Berlin.
“I thought it (assistant team leader) would give me a new kind of perspective after previously participating in the Games as an athlete.
“I’m confident I can offer some vital tips on the basis of my previous stints, especially to those athletes who will be making their debut,” said an upbeat Fonsén, who is also looking forward to meeting other athletes, coaches and team leaders.
“There will be plenty to learn and share at an event like the Special Olympics World Games. I’m looking forward to all that. Being together and sharing all the experiences and hopefully, together we can ensure a successful event in Berlin.”