Michaël Jérémiasz is a Paralympian who has gained success in so many spheres of his life, from gold medals to a happy healthy family, keen on travel sport and vitality, and yet is met daily with the challenge of leaving his own house.
Sesame Access is working with Michael to develop an affordable solution called 'the peoples lift' to ensure every wheelchair user has the means to negotiate their own front door effortlessly.
The Interview- The Sesame Access 'Peoples Lift'
1. I saw in a previous interview that you said “Life is much harder for disabled people when it comes to finding a job, a house, healthcare or to access sports, culture etc. I find that obviously very unfair and unacceptable in a modern world”. Do you think Sesame Access’ products can help reduce this struggle for disabled people by making houses/buildings etc more accessible?
Solutions to make life easier are very welcome. There is always a solution, sometimes this is common sense, sometimes money, knowledge or technological innovation. Sesame Access' products give wheelchair users freedom to go somewhere we like and not just because it's accessible. I want to have more freedom in choice being a wheelchair user and believe Sesame can help with this.
"Sesame Access' Products give wheelchair users freedom to go somewhere we like and not just because it's accessible."
2. Things began when yann our french agent found your comment on facebook which said you were looking for a ramp/disabled access that wasn't ugly, when yann approached you with our products what were your first impressions?
So I was going to look for any contractor to install some ramp into my house. I received lots of tips from friends about recommended places/solutions but nothing really stood out. When I saw Sesames products I thought damn this is serious stuff and not just any disabled access. It makes it accessible the right way, and keeps my dignity. I am going to be staying in this house for years and therefore I want something practical and safe. The fact it is hidden does not make it shameful it's just like a car and is customisable.
"When I saw Sesames products I thought damn this is serious stuff and not just any disabled access. It makes it accessible the right way, and keeps my dignity."
3. Do you think offering modern, reliable and discrete disabled access makes a difference to the user experience?
Yes, we want to offer anyone an experience. It is important, not to hide, but to make it simple and part of the architecture. Disabled people don’t want to be special, we just want to be able to take part. Things need to be easy, no more or no less.
4. What would you say to other disabled athletes about our products?
Some athletes think they are superhumans due to their achievements however they usually don’t think about accessibility because they do not want to accept they have the right to find adaptations. Refusing the need for a wheelchair is a common problem but it shouldn't be as you need to accept it. You can still be active and need disabled adaptions. You have the right to have a more practical and convenient life. People need to stop censoring themselves and find a solution to the house of your dreams or building you’ve always craved to access. We have the right to dream like anyone else. Freedom of choice is a big thing for us and these products allow that.
"We have the right to dream like anyone else. Freedom of choice is a big thing for us and these products allow that."
5. What do you like most about our products?
I have seen so many lifts and yes they work but they are chaotic to use. I love the ability to just make it fit in the existing area and allow it to blend into the property. It is also good I can still use the stairs normally if I or anyone else dont want to use the lift. Anyone can get access, and it is as safe as any others but more convenient.
"I love the ability to just make it fit in the existing area and allow it to blend into the property."
We also asked Michaël some questions regarding his life and personal experiences.
6. How did the skiing accident impact your life/mentality and how did you find the recovery/life change?
So the skiing accident happened on a family holiday in the French alps, I was showing off to my family and won the contest of the jump but didn’t land well. I broke my back spine and legs. paraplegic, classic recovery in rehab for 18 months. It was hard to get used to and especially hard for my family to get used to. My 2 brothers saw me skiing and jumping/crashing down. They saw everything happen and this was hard for them to deal with. Physio helped me get stronger and start getting my future back in shape. Being 18 I was at University and this was especially hard to adapt to as not many students were in wheelchairs. Overall, I had an amazing support system who cared a lot and assisted me with anything I needed. Sports helped me to adjust to my new way of life as sport helps you rehabilitate. It allowed me to stay healthy and fit and meant I could get stronger while enjoying the process. I pushed fast to get active again and it took a few years to completely adjust. Overall, it was hard to accept being disabled but it worked out.
"Sports helped me to adjust to my new way of life as sport helps you rehabilitate."
7. Overall would you say the skiing accident changed your life for the better or for worse and why?
I wouldn't have known what it was like to live without having that accident, so I couldn't really choose. However, I wouldn’t change the life I have today. I am a top athlete and have won medals in the Paralympic Games. I also got to meet my wife as she was a physiotherapist during my journey. I would definitely accept being in a wheelchair for the life I have right now with my wife and son.
8. What is your one aim/goal in life?
My one aim in life is to be happy. I want to have as much fun as possible.
"My one aim in life is to be happy. I want to have as much fun as possible"
9. How has the pandemic affected your passion for sports?
It has of course affected me, but it has affected everyone and we have all suffered in different ways throughout this. I was training for the Ironman before the pandemic and was working hard; making lots of progress. So I obviously got frustrated during the pandemic as I could no longer train or compete. Competitions were also cancelled throughout all sports and faculties were closed. This made it hard because I couldn't even play sports for fun which I had done all my life. It was frustrating but I could still do outdoor sports and there is space at home to do exercise and other sports. The pandemic also allowed me to spend more time with my family which I wouldn't have had otherwise. This was special as usually I am very busy.
10. What inspires you?
The ability of people to bounce back and adapt to anything that life throws at them. Every single human is facing adversity at the moment and seeing people overcome challenges inspires me to do the same and keep going.
11. What was your favourite game to play and why?
Overall, the London 2012 Paralympics were amazing to play at, the crowd was unbelievable and the public were so involved in the games. The London Olympics also had the biggest change in paralympics as the country decided to celebrate paralympians the same way as normal olympians. This was very special and rewarding for all of us, it also is great to promote equality globally and inspire everyone to believe in themselves. I also enjoyed playing The Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. It was my first paralympics and I went on to win 2 medals. This was obviously a huge surprise and great achievement. I also enjoyed the Beijing 2008 Paralympics as I won a gold medal. Brazil 2016 Paralympics were also amazing as I got to be a flag bearer. I loved the experience and was very lucky to get to do this.
12. What challenges have you faced by being a wheelchair user?
Many challenges. However the main 2 are how society looks at you and freedom. Society generally look down upon disabled people and discrimination is huge, although you may not realise it. I'm from France and the disabled group is the biggest discriminated group in France. Buildings are often inaccessible and this means I can not go there which is unfair and means I often miss out. Accessibility is a key thing and when you become disabled you suddenly realise what an accessible door is. I have to plan where I want to go beforehand to make sure I am able to get inside/get around and this is hard as I can't get to all the places I want to, as these places have no interest or the funds to become accessible.
13. What city has been the most/least accessible for you?
The most accessible were probably America and Australia. America is very accessible. Most inaccessible is France. I once climbed Mont Saint Michel in France, there were thousands of steps and my brother had to climb up with me on his back as it was very inaccessible. Northern Europe is decently accessible. France, Spain, Portugal are all pretty inaccessible apart from main cities such as Barcelona and Madrid. Africa and Asia are also quite inaccessible.
14. How do you feel when you meet younger athletes who claim to have been inspired by you?
I only really get recognition in France but there many athletes and disabled users are inspired. Being a top athlete makes me a role model. This idea then makes you realise all the things you have achieved as an athlete. Bit of a responsibility to change society and make it a better place. I also have a duty to care and change peoples lives, but to me a few hundred is enough. Overall it is very rewarding and if it makes me useful for others I am happy.
15. What made you realize that you want to be a pro-level player in your sport?
I was a tennis player for 13 years, I played tennis a lot as a child, however it wasn't my favourite sport. However, after the accident I tried wheelchair tennis and enjoyed it as it wasn’t bad. I then started to play and compete local, national and finally worldwide. It helped me rehabilitate and I enjoyed it so for me it was fun to continue.
16. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
I see myself still living in London, so that will be 6 years in London. I love living in London as there is so much to do. I want to become more active after the pandemic and continue my sports and training. I also still want to be developing my activities and enjoying life. In 2024, the Paralympics will be held in Paris so I will be in between London and Paris. I am also producing a movie in France and want to continue this as I enjoy telling the story. I would love to learn how to learn to act, as there are not many disabled actors, I want to Defend minorities.
17. What are 3 things that are important to you?
Family, freedom and the impact I have on people/what I bring to society.
"Family, freedom and the impact I have on people/what I bring to society."