In the first part, DPI (Disabled Peoples' International) Japan National Assembly Vice-Chairperson Koji Ono gave a lecture on the Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, explaining in detail the meaning of the "provision of reasonable accommodations" described in the law passed this year, and in the second part, a panel discussion was held with representatives of the four disability-related organizations which held their national meeting in the hall and the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall Facilities Management Department.
What are "reasonable accommodations" for people with disabilities?
"Unfair discriminatory treatment" includes such things as being refused entry to a shop, refused a rental agreement, or denied the chance to take an examination or enroll in a school because of a disability. "Reasonable accommodations" are accommodations made in keeping with the characteristics or challenges of the disability so that people with and without disabilities may be given an equal opportunity to participate in societal activities such as employment or education.
With the enforcement of the Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, public institutions such as administrative offices and schools are obligated to provide reasonable accommodations as much as possible. Ordinary companies and stores run by private business owners are also expected to endeavor to fulfill this obligation.
DPI (Disabled Peoples' International) Japan National Assembly Vice-Chairperson Koji Ono
The speaker for the first section, Koji Ono, who uses a wheelchair due to a leg disability, gave this clear explanation of reasonable accommodations.
"A person who uses a wheelchair was able to attend the concert of a rock band they love. However, when they arrived at the location in their wheelchair, they were told by event staff that it was expected to be crowded, and asked if they would leave several songs before the end of the concert.
This person really wanted to stay until the encore, so they said that they didn't mind waiting to leave the venue last so they could stay to see the encore, but the staff would not give permission, saying, 'But if something were to happen...'
They persistently negotiated with the event staff, and in the end, they were able to see the encore and be the last person to leave. But when remembering the concert, which should have been fun, that unpleasant conversation also comes to mind, giving them mixed feelings about the memory."
After telling this story, Mr. Ono asked us what the event staff were missing when they said, "But if something were to happen..."
He said it was that they had not thought specifically about the situation in which something actually did happen. Without thinking of that, they are giving the responsibility for and coping with "when something happens" to the person with the disability.
Through imagining each possibility of what could occur "when something happens," and considering what to do in this case or that case, it is possible to do specific problem-solving and implement policies to provide the necessary facilities, create rules, or make improvements.
By doing this, more people with disabilities can enjoy concerts in the same way as those without disabilities. This is the meaning of offering reasonable accommodations.
Simply saying "We cannot give you preferential treatment," or "There is no precedent for that," is acting without thinking. He said that when people remain indifferent to the needs of people with disabilities and do not change their own way of thinking, it is disability discrimination, a major barrier to reasonable accommodation.
Kanagawa Kenmin Hall's initiative for reasonable accommodation
The second part was a panel discussion, with the earlier speaker Mr. Ono as moderator, including Yuriko Komai of the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall Facilities Management Department, and representatives of the four organizations which had held their national meeting in the hall: Chairperson Eiko Todo of NPO EDGE, which supports people with dyslexia, a disability causing difficulty with reading and writing, Chairperson Chikako Yoda of the Kanagawa Prefecture Joining Hands to Nurture Organization, a group of parents and supporters of people with intellectual disabilities, Kanagawa Prefecture Association of Parents of Children with Physical Disabilities Chairperson Yoshiaki Ishibashi, and Kanagawa Prefecture Alliance for People with Hearing Disabilities Board Chairperson Masahiro Kawahara.
Kanagawa Kenmin Hall Facilities Management Department, Yuriko Komai
This year marks 41 years since the opening of Kanagawa Kenmin Hall, a historical and traditional large-scale cultural facility located within sight of popular Yokohama sightseeing spot Yamashita Park. Built using the newest techniques at the time, the design was thought to be sufficient, but from an accessibility point of view, the building is old, and had many issues such as needing reduction of steps and improvement of toilet facilities.
Although it is difficult to change an old building, the Kenmin Hall set up a study group on accessibility, holding meetings with users and people who work on such facilities in other places, and worked to solve problems for the national meeting by changing the mindset of staff.
We will now introduce the process of preparation through repeated discussions between the Kanagawa Kenmin Hall and each of the organizations before the national meeting, the opinions given by each group from the point of view of the disability they represent, and proposals going forward.
1. Accommodations for users who have difficulty with reading and writing
Chairperson of NPO EDGE Eiko Todo gave the following explanation of dyslexia, which is still not a well-known term in Japan.
"Dyslexia is a disability in which there are no abnormalities of the organs of sight and hearing, and no problem with intellect, but there is extreme difficulty with the ability to read and write. Because the shape or configuration of characters appears to move or stick together, it is difficult to interpret information from written words." Therefore, the Kenmin Hall held a hearing on what type of characters are easy to read for people with dyslexia, and changed the font used for surveys and pamphlets from the decorative Ming typeface to the more rounded, easy-to-read Gothic typeface. They also added extra spacing between lines and phrases, etc., as another way to make it easier to see.
Ms. Todo noted that the information signs inside the meeting room were difficult to understand, and suggested that pictograms (illustrations) would also be useful in the future.
2. Accommodations for wheelchair users and people with intellectual disabilities
There is a problem with the restrooms for the hall, which is often visited for meetings by people who use wheelchairs and people who need aides in the restroom. There are eight wheelchair-accessible toilets in the Kenmin Hall (two of those are on underground levels, leaving six).
Regarding initiatives by the Hall on the toilet number problem, Facilities Management Department member Yuriko Komai said, "The staff placed restrooms on each floor so that they could be used without overcrowding, but by using an intercommunication system to share information about the crowding status, we tried to guide people to use the restrooms smoothly. In addition, it is not possible to install more elevators immediately, but we handled this by using freight elevators and strategies to keep elevators from stopping on other floors on that day (for example, employees not using the elevator, and not scheduling other events for the same day)."
Intellectual disability-related group Kanagawa Prefecture Joining Hands to Nurture Organization Chairperson Chikako Yoda gave the opinion, "Some people need a caregiver in the restroom even if they do not use a wheelchair. It attracts attention when a person whose disability is not outwardly apparent goes into a private stall with a caregiver of the opposite sex. It would be good to have signs for unisex universal toilets, not only for wheelchair users and ostomates."
Kanagawa Prefecture Association of Parents of Children with Physical Disabilities Chairperson Yoshiaki Ishibashi proposed, "It would be good to have a place to change not only children's diapers, but also adults' diapers (a care room)."
Mr. Ishibashi said that he researched and shared the most accessible routes from Haneda Airport, Tokyo Station, etc., for people using wheelchairs to come to this meeting.
He published a detailed guide on his website, including pictures, showing the most accessible route to get to the Kenmin Hall from the nearest station, Nihon-odori Station.
Changes were not limited to this kind of intangible accommodation; as an absolutely necessary facility, the Kenmin Hall installed a new stairway called FlexStep that can lift a wheelchair in the area leading backstage.
Until now, there was no way for a wheelchair to move on and off the stage except by lifting it manually, so once presenters were lifted up, they would be hesitant to move around for fear of causing an inconvenience.
However, because FlexStep does not require the assistance of an aide, it allowed presenters who use wheelchairs to freely enter and leave the backstage area on their own. The design is not boring like a baggage lift, but is a lovely furniture-style device which has been received extremely favorably.
The FlexStep, which usually acts as a stairway, but becomes a lift for wheelchair users
3. Accommodations for users with a hearing disability
Next, Kanagawa Prefecture Alliance for People with Hearing Disabilities Board Chairperson Masahiro Kawahara explained about the challenges of hearing disabilities. "One difficulty for people who cannot hear is that their disability is not visible to the eye in everyday life, so it is easy for others who speak to them to think they are being ignored. In addition, they do not get information that is naturally received through the ears, so there is a big difference from hearing people in how they get information and knowledge."
One concern about holding the recent national meeting, which many people with hearing disabilities attended, was how to alert them in case of an earthquake or other emergency situation, since the Kenmin Hall was not equipped with an electronic noticeboard that could display a text message.
Therefore, preparations were made before the meeting so that a large message could be displayed on the screen at the back of the stage in case of earthquake information, etc.
Also, during the pre-event hearing, Mr. Kawahara expressed his requests that the start would be signaled not only by a buzzer, but also by slowly flashing the lights, and that the event staff would carry implements for communicating in writing, along with diagrams of the building to show attendees where to go by pointing. In response, the Kenmin Hall implemented the flashing lights as a starting signal, had event staff learn some simple sign language for greetings and guiding attendees around the building, and had staff carry writing implements for communication where they could easily be seen by attendees, to emphasize a feeling of "we are prepared to communicate with you."
Mr. Kawahara also expressed appreciation for his interaction with the Kenmin Hall, saying, "Previously when we rented a venue, the place never asked if we had any special requests, so it was wonderful to be asked in advance."
Kanagawa Prefecture Alliance for People with Hearing Disabilities Board Chairperson Masahiro Kawahara
4. Accommodations for people with intellectual disabilities, developmental disorders, and autism
Many people with dyslexia also have a developmental disorder, and we heard an explanation of their features from Ms. Todo, chairperson of NPO EDGE, and Ms. Yoda, chairperson of the Kanagawa Prefecture Joining Hands to Nurture Organization.
For example, there are people who have trouble staying still for a long time, people who are sensitive to the loudness of sounds, echoes, the strength of lighting, or flickering lights, people who become anxious if things do not proceed as determined in advance, people who cannot quickly understand directions announced in an emergency situation, etc.
The organizations and the Hall discussed these qualities thoroughly, looking for the best common ground to solve each problem of how to take an intermission, planning lighting and sound effects, taking rehearsal time, and using care with the wording of announcements in case of an emergency situation.
As one example, if an earthquake were to occur and people were instructed to evacuate, people with these disabilities have a tendency to become anxious and easily panic.
Therefore, instead of saying what not to do, such as "Don't push," or "Don't run," it is important to speak in a calm tone, and say specifically how people should act, such as "Please walk slowly."
In response, the Kenmin Hall worked to choose wording which was easy to read, understand, and answer for the earthquake announcement that would be projected on the screen, as well as the survey for attendees to fill out at the end of the meeting.
To move toward an inclusive society, we should start by changing the intangibles
Ms. Komai of the Kenmin Hall, who discussed with each of the organizations to understand the accommodations necessary for people who have various disabilities so that as many people with disabilities as possible can further enjoy the use of the cultural facilities, thoroughly worked to first investigate what can become an accessibility barrier, have personnel experience it, gather information from other facilities, and listen to the people concerned.
Then she selected an issue, considered solutions, narrowed down ideas and proposed alternatives, implemented those that were possible, and connected those that were not possible to the next issue, working in a cycle to complete the initiative.
She repeated this process of first listening to the people concerned and discussing and reporting information to come to an agreement. At this symposium, we were able to learn about removing barriers to accessibility one by one via this process of continued dialogue.
To know what can be a barrier
The Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities was implemented this year, but do you know how many cultural and arts appreciation facilities and sports watching facilities in Japan are currently implementing accessibility measures?
According to DPI (Disabled Peoples' International) Japan National Assembly Vice-Chairperson Mr. Ono, at Tokyo Dome, for example, out of 46,000 spectator seats, there are only 12 seats for wheelchair users. Moreover, because aides have to sit behind the wheelchair, it is impossible to sit together and enjoy watching a baseball game side by side.
Incidentally, Yankee Stadium in the United States has 68 wheelchair seating areas, and with 200 to 300 seats, people can choose the place they like. Extra-large elevators and large ramps make it easy to move around.
This is just one example, but it shows that there has been a big difference between Japan and the United States in the awareness of chances to participate in society for people with disabilities.
The preparation and introduction process
In order to build an inclusive society (supporting and including all people as members of society without isolating or excluding anyone) in which all people can equally enjoy appreciation of culture and arts and watching sports, regardless of whether they have a disability, the first step we can take is changing the "intangible" side: people.
We were able to learn from the Kenmin Hall's initiatives for the groups’ national meeting that there are many reasons why tangible things cannot be immediately changed, such as the age or inconvenience of the building or insufficient budget, but despite this, by changing the awareness of the people who work there, we can promote an attitude of proactively knowing what kind of needs people with disabilities have and having knowledge and ideas for solving them, and gradually it is possible to improve.
This example will be very useful not only for other public facilities, but also for ordinary companies and stores, and will surely have a wide positive impact.