World News from Japan
"A society where everyone, regardless of background or disability, feels welcome, included and supported"
Postcard from Japan: Disability and Disaster
(By Suzanne Kamata, 17.03.11) Suzanne Kamata was born and raised in Grand Haven, Michigan, and now lives in Tokushima Prefecture, Japan with her husband and two children. She is fiction editor for the popular e-zine Literary Mama, and edits and publishes the literary magazine Yomimono. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times, and received a special mention in 2006. She is also a two-time winner of the All Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest. She is the editor of Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.
Whenever I case a new location, look at friends' vacation photos, or watch travelogues, I wonder about wheelchair accessibility. I wondered the same thing on Friday afternoon, watching disaster coverage on TV with my eleven-year-old daughter in Japan.
An hour earlier, when I went to pick her and her wheelchair up from school – the school for the deaf, which is housed in an aging four-story building with no elevator – her principal rushed out to my car to tell me to hurry home. He told me that a tsunami warning had been issued for Tokushima
Prefecture. Although we live around 500 miles from Miyagi Prefecture, the scene of the greatest devastation, the deaf school is right next to an tributary of the Yoshino River, not far from the inland sea, and our home is just on the other side of the levee. It seemed like a good idea to get away from water.
As I listened to the sirens coming from across the road, warning people to leave the riverside, my daughter and I watched footage of people scrambling up hills as their houses, cars, and livelihoods were washed away. I couldn't help thinking about how hard it would be to get a wheelchair up that hill - and later, seeing photos of the aftermath, of how hard it would be to push through that debris.
It's not especially easy to get around with a wheelchair at the best of times. There are many restaurants near our house that we can no longer visit as a family because they are accessible only by steps. At the local McDonald's, the Happy Meal display blocks the wheelchair ramp, and the toilet stall is too narrow for my daughter and her wheelchair. Last summer, she and I went by train to a small town an hour west of here for the funeral of one of her teachers. In order to board a "barrier-free" train car in Tokushima City (pop. 264,764), I had to carry her wheelchair up steps to the platform. There was no ramp. And of course there were no wheelchair ramps in the little towns we traveled through, nor at our final destination. I found out later that I could have called for assistance in advance, but it seemed like a lot of trouble. Why not just pour a little concrete?
After living in Japan for 23 years, I've come to understand that along with the capacity for endurance, much vaunted by the foreign press these past several days, and a sense of fatalism encompassed by the oft-repeated phrase "shikata ga nai" (it can't be helped), the Japanese can be characterized by an aversion to meiwaku (being a burden) In other words, no one wants to make trouble. This, I believe, more than a sense of shame, is why people with disabilities are sometimes reluctant to venture out, and why people don't like to complain.
Last week, I discussed these issues with a nurse that I've been teaching privately for the past couple of years who is writing a dissertation on accessibility. This week, we talked about the earthquake. She told me that she had grown up in Miyagi, where over a thousand bodies were found in the sea, and that her grandmother's house in Fukushima has been irreparably damaged. She told me that as a nurse, training in Chiba, one of the shakier cities in Japan, she learned to wrap patients in a sling made of sheets for easy transport. (It takes too much time to get patients to wheelchairs and gurneys.) She said that she could do this in three minutes flat.
Japan is arguably the most disaster-ready nation on earth. Earthquake drills are held regularly at my children's schools. Outside my daughter's classroom – and every other classroom - there is a backpack with emergency supplies. My kids – and every other kid in Japan – have padded, fireproof hoods near their desks. This past week, my daughter has been practicing for earthquakes every day. Her teacher tells me that although at first she dawdled, she is getting faster at crawling under her desk. But her classroom is on the first floor of an old building that still bears cracks from the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.
I am relieved when I see people in wheelchairs among the evacuees on TV. They made it out alive, in spite of their disabilities. Meanwhile, I am reminded of that great law of nature – sometimes only the fittest survive. One woman who escaped the flood confessed that she couldn't save her elderly parents. In order to live, she had to let them go
Daughter's disability focus of book / Mother makes novel of joys, sorrows of raising a disabled child
(By Yukako Fukushi, Yomiuri Shimbun, Staff Writer, Hadano, 29.08.10) Kanagawa--"Happy Birthday to you," sang a dozen young disabled people, their voices resounding in a small hall in Hadano, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Yuriko Fukushima, 63, was watching her mentally disabled daughter Noe, 34, singing in the group one weekend in early summer as they practiced songs they were learning. Fukushima said she knew her daughter was singing with all her strength as her back was trembling. Fukushima thought, "Thank you for having been born as my daughter."
Noe was participating in a chorus practice held by Koboyama no Kai, an association that aims at helping disabled people become more independent.
Noe was born a year after Fukushima, a middle school teacher, married one of her colleagues, Kentaro, now 61. After a difficult birth, Noe began to show a lag in development when she was 3 years old. Today, besides a mental disability, her right leg is functionally impaired.
After Noe's birth, Fukushima continued to work as a teacher with the help of her parents-in-law, who helped care for Noe. However, she began to feel uneasy about her daughter's future.
In 1990, with an eye to opening a shop where she and her daughter could work together for a long time, she decided to end her 20-year career as a teacher. She obtained a cook's license by attending a school and gained experience as an apprentice at a restaurant. She decided to open a small deli in April 1994 with her retirement allowance.
Shortly before the shop's opening, she learned that a vocational training facility in the neighborhood had places open. Noe seemed to be familiar with the facility, which she had visited for training when she was a student at a high school for the disabled.
Fukushima decided to have her daughter attend the facility during the day, thinking it would be nice if Noe liked the place. Fukushima accepted the situation in her mind but she felt empty, she said. She closed the deli eight months later.
Beginning of a book
Fukushima spent a year without doing anything special. In those days, she sometimes felt a magmalike pressure inside, as if something was trying to find release, she said. One day, she turned on her old word processor and started typing. Sentences describing the joys and sorrows of bringing up her daughter began to flow freely.
Fukushima has been writing down her thoughts about her family for 15 years, and it has become a part of her life.
"'Mitsuru, stop!' I thought I had shouted, but my voice did not come out. Instead, I heard Mitsuru's high-pitched laughter. I thought, 'Please, someone stop that child!'"
This is a passage she wrote about a graduation ceremony at a primary school where Noe attended a special class for the disabled. During the graduation ceremony, Noe's laughter was easily heard.
The passage became part of a short novel, titled "Sudachi" (Fledgling), one of several short novels she has written.
Fukushima later combined several short novels, including "Sudachi" into one volume titled "Mitsuru no Haru" (Mitsuru's spring).
"Sudachi" is about parents dealing with a disabled child. Although she used fictionalized names in the novel, the story and feelings were based on her own experience.
One day, Fukushima encountered a former student who had read "Mitsuru no Haru." The former student told Fukushima she also had a child with a disability similar to Noe's. They shared their experiences and feelings.
Fukushima said after she began to write she came to think beyond her own problems, about problems for disabled people and local communities. She subsequently started to do volunteer work in support of disabled people.
Reflecting on her life with her daughter, she said although it has been hard, she feels her life has been enriched by the experience.
Fukushima said she would like to continue writing on themes such as the aging of society and life and death. A new laptop computer has replaced her old word processor on her desk.
Disability in Japan
(By Thomas C. Weiss, 14.03.10) The nation of Japan has a new, long-term program for government measures related to people with disabilities that was formulated on the basis of the Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons which was enacted in the year 1993.
The Action Plan for Priority Areas, which established a strategy for the achievment of goals related to the Long-Term Program over a period of seven years, started in the fiscal year of 1996, reaching its conclusion in fiscal year 2002. A new Basic Plan for Persons with Disabilities covering the years 2003 through 2012 was passed as a Cabinet order in December of 2002, with a new Action Plan for Priority Areas that provides a strategy for the realization of the goals of the Basic Plan during the first ten year term being adopted.
Japan's Basic Plan related to people with disabilities keeps the concepts of rehabilitation and normalization from the New Long-Term Program while declaring the goal of creating a society in which people with disabilities have the same rights and treatment as nondisabled persons, as well as the same opportunities and self-determination to both participate and share in the nation’s responsibilities. The philosophy underlying Japan ’s objectives is an inclusive society where everyone respects the individual differences people have while supporting one-another.
The measure by the Japanese government have their roots in the Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons; they have the goals of providing services that meet the needs of people with disabilities in medical care, pensions, welfare, employment, education and additional areas. The Japanese government also desires to create a society that is barrier-free in all realms of their social structure, to include access to transportation, buildings, and information. Legislation, as well as social systems, need to be formulated among a wide-range of social spheres in order to promote measures comprehensively.
Due to the wide dispersion of policies in Japan , the Headquarters for Promoting the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities was established in the Cabinet Office. The goal of the Headquarters is to ensure that Japanese government ministries remain in close contact with each other to promote measure effectively and systematically. Japan ’s Prime Minister is the head of the organization, with a staff of relevant ministers. Their effort is one of a unified approach within the central government to the formulation and passage of measure related to people with disabilities.
The Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons which took force in the year 1993 in Japan serves as the base of welfare policies in the nation; it was revised in the year 2004. The revised law sets forth, ‘full participation and equality,’ as its guiding philosophy, and intends to maintain the individual livelihood and dignity of people with disabilities, stating these must be guaranteed. The Fundamental Law states that opportunities for people with disabilities to take part in Japanese society must be secured, discrimination based upon a person’s disability must be abolished, and the equal rights of people with disabilities in Japan must be protected. The Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons also mandates that municipal government both draw up and implement programs which support the independence and social participation of Japanese citizens with disabilities. The Fundamental Law also has provisions related to nursing and medical care, pensions, living support, vocational training and employment, education, barrier-free institutions, information, housing, prevention of the causes of disabilities, and additional areas to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities in Japan are met.
You can read more about Japan ’s Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons here: JICA Friends
Japan’s Disability Statistics
There are some interesting statistics related to people with disabilities in the nation of Japan . As with many nations on planet Earth, the population of people with disabilities continues to grow in proportion with the nondisabled population of nations. For example; the year 1999 in Japan found:
Japan’s total population – 126,000,000 people
The year 1998 in Japan found 360,000 people being identified as persons with an intractable disease. As of the year 1997, people with disabilities were entitled to in-home services, a short in-home stay to provide carers with a rest, and provision of additional equipment they might need. People with disabilities in Japan are entitled to a small monthly allowance, once they have proven they have an intractable disease, and all of their medical expenses related to that particular disease are waived.
Yet Japan continues to experience some of the same woes related to discrimination that other nations do. In an article titled, ‘Is Disability Still a Dirty Word in Japan,’ Tomoko Otake states, “Government statistics show that, out of a population of around 127 million, some 3.5 million are physically disabled, 2.5 million are mentally ill and 500,000 are mentally disabled. That’s a total of around 6.5 million individuals. Roughly one in 20 people in Japan has some disability or another. The article by Tomoko Otake states, "But where are they? Granted, we see more station elevators, wheelchair-accessible toilets and buses with passenger lifts nowadays. Such facilities are visible, but many people hardly ever encounter those who use them -- let alone anyone with non-physical disabilities. In fact, apart from people with disabled family members or friends, most Japanese quite likely live their whole lives without ever interacting with their disabled fellow citizens."
The number of people with physical disabilities in Japan has increased, according to the date on this article, in comparison to the statistics quoted earlier. Japan ’s Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons has been in place for some time, much like the Americans with Disabilities Act in the United States . Like America , Japan appears to be experiencing difficulties with with accessibility and social participation on the parts of people with disabilities, despite some attempts at increasing the accessibility for people with disabilities in some areas of society. Like the goals of America , the Japanese government appears to have lofty goals in relation to people with disabilities, with mediocre results. The article by Tomoko Otake also states:
"More than half of graduates of special schools currently go into what officials call ‘welfare-like employment,’ channeling them into thousands of state-accredited or privately run rehabilitation centers nationwide. These centers offer no labor rights protection and on average pay a meager wage of less than 30,000 yen per month, making it impossible for the disabled to live independently."
There seems to be an established system for people with disabilities in Japan , one that segregates people with disabilities in relation to employment. One of the stated goals of the Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons in Japan is the integration of people with disabilities into Japanese society. Another is to ensure that opportunities for people with disabilities exist within mainstream Japanese society. The statement made by Tomoko Otake describes a very different situation in actual Japanese society.
Is "disability" still a dirty word in Japan ?
What does an outside view bring to light in relation to Japanese society and people with disabilities? One view, on the part of Ellen Rubin, reflects on education and people with disabilities in Japan . In an article by Ellen titled, ‘Impressions of Japan from a Disability Perspective,’ she states, “Separate, but equal. Although students with disabilities are provided an excellent education in Japan , many are educated in separate schools providing services to meet the needs of students with various types of disabilities. There is no question that these students are taught a curriculum as rigorous as in regular neighborhood schools. What is missing is social interaction, the awareness of non-disabled children that their disabled peers have a great deal to contribute to their communities."
The impression one might gain from reading this statement is that Japan views people with disabilities as people who are equal, yet somehow unfit or unworthy to participate with nondisabled counterparts in society. There is clearly a lack of social acceptance indicated in what Ellen Rubin says on the part of Japanese society where people with disabilities are concerned. Bias and prejudice, it would seem, are alive and well in Japan . Ellen also states:
"If more teachers embraced the importance of including children with disabilities in general education programs, students with disabilities would enjoy greater success in integrated classrooms. This holds true in the US as well as in Japan . As more and more students become integrated into the education system, communities will begin to realize that disabled students have much to offer, including problem-solving skills and life experiences."
America is no stranger to segregation by any means. Japan , as well as other nations around planet Earth, continue to struggle with nondisabled perceptions of disability in relation to every aspect of society and social interaction. Every one of the areas approached by the Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons, or the Americans with Disabilities Act for that matter, continue to be ones that society struggles with. Until acceptance on the part of nondisabled persons becomes widespread, Fundamental Laws and Disability Acts will remain partially effective at best.
Impressions of Japan from a Disability Perspective
(By Ellen Rubin) Ellen Rubin traveled to Japan as a participant on the Mobility International USA US/Japan Disability Professional Exchange Program, sponsored by The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. Ms. Rubin is coordinator of Disability Programs at Educational Equity Concepts, Inc., and an Access Consultant.
As we waited for a meeting to begin, our group was guided to the Honmonji Temple . The smell of incense and the sounds of chanting and an intermitten gong filled the air. The echo of the large space evoked a feeling of calm, solemnity and tranquility. This was one of the cultural highlights of my first trip to Japan .
Traditional drumming, the preparation of Mochitsuki (traditional rice cakes) and a family that opened their home to me rounded out the picture. I found myself en route to Tokyo , a participant on Mobility International USA (MIUSA)'s US/Japan Disability Professional Exchange Program, sponsored by The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. Our goal was to learn more about the situation of the disabled community in Japan and to share our experiences as US professionals with our Japanese counterparts. Our delegation was hosted by Footloose, an organization founded to increase opportunities for people with disabilities in education, employment and community involvement through international exchange.
Through seminars, small group meetings and cultural opportunities we learned a great deal about the issues facing people with disabilities in Japan and the efforts underway to create a more inclusive society. Currently, the rights of people with disabilities in Japan are not protected under the law. In spite of this, people with and without disabilities are creating opportunities in many arenas.
Separate, but equal. Although students with disabilities are provided an excellent education in Japan , many are educated in separate schools providing services to meet the needs of students with various types of disabilities. There is no question that these students are taught a curriculum as rigorous as in regular neighborhood schools. What is missing is social interaction, the awareness of non-disabled children that their disabled peers have a great deal to contribute to their communities.
On February 8, we joined members of the public in a public forum, entitled Equal Opportunities for Education. One of the speakers was Kenji Katagiri, a teacher who has educated students with disabilities in his general education classroom for more than fifteen years. Mr. Katagiri shared his initial reluctance to include a student with a disability in his classroom, then explained how the year was a great success for his students and for himself. As Secretary General of the National Association for the Promotion of Inclusive Education, he is now committed to raising consciousness and funding to make it possible for more students with disabilities to attend school with their siblings and neighborhood peers. Due to the commitment of individuals like Mr. Katagiri, there has been an increase in the number of students with disabilities being integrated into local schools.
If more teachers embraced the importance of including children with disabilities in general education programs, students with disabilities would enjoy greater success in integrated classrooms. This holds true in the US as well as in Japan . As more and more students become integrated into the education system, communities will begin to realize that disabled students have much to offer, including problem-solving skills and life experiences. Integration in education in turn leads to greater inclusion in the workforce and in community activities.
One of the highlights of my time in Japan was living with a Japanese family. My host family was unique in that they have been providing a home away from home for international students for many years. Prior to my arrival, however, they had never hosted or even had contact with a person with a disability. My host family welcomed me warmly. I got to know the parents and their two grown daughters, as well as two students from Taiwan . My host mother and I have been corresponding on a regular basis since my return to the US and I hope someday to extend to her the hospitality, courtesy and candor that she and her family extended to me.
Many things impressed me during our two weeks in Tokyo . We were told that we would be staying in a hostel. I immediately imagined a traditional youth hostel, in which many people would be bunking in a large room. Hence, I was surprised when we arrived, tired from the long trip, at the fully accessible Toyama Sunrise, a training facility and hostel established by the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons. The Toyama Sunrise has many thoughtful access features such as difference in texture on the floor making it easy to identify the location of the elevators. The elevators also were marked in Braille and had spoken messages as well. By the end of our trip, I could actually understand the Japanese announcements on the elevator! The automatic entrance doors also were easily located by the tunes they played - one for an opening door and one for the closing door. The public bath was the perfect end to many exciting, full days of learning and sharing.
Many Tokyo train stations have elevators for people who have mobility disabilities. Tactile warning strips allow all passengers on the crowded trains to know that they are very close to the platform edge. As I understand it, this has been the case in Japan for many years. In the US , many transportation facilities are installing tactile warning strips in order to comply with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Braille signage was thoughtfully positioned on the handrails of each and every stairway, top and bottom and left and right. Although I don't read Japanese Braille, I found this most impressive. In the subway system in New York there is Braille signage on the occasional pillar, which I usually try to avoid! If I want to find signage, I have to ask a sighted traveler to show me where the sign is in any given station.
In addition to establishing relationships with the US members of the delegation, I have formed lasting friendships with many of the people whom I met in Japan . In the spring, I got in touch with Toshiaki Aomatsu, a teacher at the National School for the Blind, who was planning a trip to a California technology conference. We have since shared information regarding exciting new adaptive technology being developed in the US and in Japan . In October, I met with representatives of the Japan Council on the Blind in New York .
As a consultant who frequently presents at conferences on international exchange, this exchange has given me one more culture, one more perspective, one more set of experiences from which I can draw. Taking part in professional exchange gives you authenticity when talking about the importance of international exchange for people with disabilities.
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