When Jonathan Jérémiasz suggested an improvised jump competition with his brother and best friend at the Avoriaz snowpark, he wasn’t expecting it to turn both of their lives upside down. On that day, his brother Michaël became paraplegic after a ten-metre fall. Ten years later, they would found a charity together to support people with disabilities.
Michaël Jérémiasz spent the nine months following the accident in the Coubert rehabilitation centre in Seine-et-Marne.
This period often starts with depression then, gradually, patients come to build a new identity in this new situation.
But the charity Comme les autres was created eleven years later in the phase after leaving the rehabilitation centre.
“It’s a real turning point with two categories of people”, explains Jonathan Jérémiasz, now director of the charity of which his brother is the chairman. “There are those who have personal, inner psychological and physical resources and an entourage which enables them to bounce back quickly. Then, there are those who are less fortunate, who were sometimes already a little psychologically fragile before the accident, socially disadvantaged or both, and they don’t necessarily have the family entourage they need. This can also get more complicated: we often see a collapse when they return home, with a sudden deterioration in their mental and physical health.”
Needless to say, Michaël Jérémiasz is in the first category and had an exceptional recovery: world number 1 in wheelchair tennis singles and doubles in 2005, he won four medals at the Paralympics in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Jonathan attributes the reason for this recovery to a quick return to sport: wheelchair skiing only one year after his fall, freeflying and, of course, tennis.
We took to life again swearing that nothing would stop us, that he wouldn't be prevented from doing anything. We realised that this very sporty state of mind, rejecting obstacles, had a very powerful effect on his regaining self-confidence and reconciliation with his body.
Jonathan Jérémiasz, co-founder and director of Comme les Autres
Comme les autres: from sport to professional integration
The charity offers social support to people with disabilities, through three main pillars.
The first is to use thrills to inspire this sporting state of mind, which encourages you to exceed your own expectations and regain self-confidence. Fabrice, a disabled participant tells us “I’m surprised to be doing activities that I didn’t think I was capable of doing. The thrill-seeking activities awakened everything that was lying dormant in me and I loved every second!”
The second is the mix between disabled and able-bodied people because according to Jonathan, there needs to be a reconciliation between the two.
“The stays are magical because you forget about disability”, confirms Barbara, an able-bodied participant. “You come out of them just feeling like you’ve had a great time with a group of friends.”
The last pillar of this support is to create a meeting between recently disabled and more experienced disabled people.
The charity devised this support to help its beneficiaries access rights, mobility, accommodation, leisure, culture, regular sports practice and professional integration. This last aspect was therefore only one goal among others. However, in an experiment in Hauts-de-France, Comme les Autres tried to put professional integration at the heart of the process and the results were immediate.
Integration was the domino that knocked down all the others. By focusing on this, the charity has proven to be more effective across all its goals. Because support with a career immediately gave very concrete meaning to the challenges and it was suddenly easier to gain motivation to find a solution for mobility, accommodation, etc.
It became obvious, where extreme sports had been the starting point for the charity, that professional integration had to be the core focus of the support. This is a change that is not yet complete and which the Societe Generale Foundation has chosen to support in a pilot project across the whole country to support thirty people who have become disabled with employment as the goal.
A message to companies
Comme les Autres se retrouve donc de plus en plus à parler aux entreprises de la question du handicap.
Comme les Autres is talking more and more about disability to companies.
Michaël Jérémiasz will speak on 3 June at the Inclusiv’Day, the event for inclusive companies and social innovations of which Societe Generale is a partner.
“We have a key message to spread to companies”, says Jonathan. “That they have a very strong responsibility to include disabled people, because one of the great places for a social connection, integration and the means to achieve financial independence is at work. This is an issue that goes beyond the performance that it may bring a company. It’s a matter of ethics. It’s a matter of company philosophy.”
Visit the charity's website: Comme les autres
Know more about the Inclusiv’Day