Se­verely dis­abled law­mak­ers in Ja­pan fight ‘in­vis­i­bil­ity’

Se­verely dis­abled law­mak­ers in Ja­pan fight ‘in­vis­i­bil­ity’

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Ja­panese law­maker Ya­suhiko Fu­nago has a neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease that means he can­not speak and com­mu­ni­cates by blink­ing to his carer or op­er­at­ing a com­puter sys­tem with his mouth.

But he is de­mand­ing to be heard as he fights to im­prove the lives of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in Ja­pan, where many in the com­mu­nity com­plain of feel­ing "in­vis­i­ble".

"I was a cor­po­rate sol­dier be­fore I had amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis (ALS) and had hardly any op­por­tu­ni­ties to have con­tact with peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties," Fu­nago told a com­mit­tee in Novem­ber.

"I had no idea how peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties or ill­ness were liv­ing," he said in the re­marks read by his par­lia­men­tary aide. Such "ig­no­rance" leads to "prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion", the 62 year old warned.

Fel­low law­maker Eiko Kimura, 54, is paral­ysed from the neck down ex­cept for one hand, af­ter suf­fer­ing a child­hood in­jury.

Af­ter be­ing elected last year to the Up­per House of par­lia­ment, she is push­ing for more in­te­gra­tion of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, driven by the mem­ory of a child­hood in a care­home - where she some­times felt she be­longed to a dif­fer­ent world than able­bod­ied peo­ple.

A so­ci­ety that does not help dis­abled peo­ple ends up ef­fec­tively hid­ing them, she be­lieves. "Go­ing to school or work­ing is very im­por­tant if you want to join so­ci­ety," said Eiko. "Be­ing de­prived of it is why we are in­vis­i­ble in so­ci­ety."

Both law­mak­ers rely on car­ers for sup­port. Their elec­tion has high­lighted a le­gal loop­hole that makes it hard for dis­abled peo­ple to work in Ja­pan: the state pays for car­ers only if the dis­abled per­son is not em­ployed or in school.

That can mean dis­abled peo­ple sim­ply can­not af­ford to work be­cause the cost of pri­vate help would ex­ceed their salaries.

The Up­per House is pay­ing for Eiko and Fu­nago's as­sis­tants, but the new law­mak­ers want the rules changed to help the 11,500 other se­ri­ously dis­abled peo­ple who rely on pub­lic care.

Ja­pan's par­lia­ment has been up­dated since 1977, when the coun­try's first wheel­chair-us­ing law­maker, Eita Yashiro, had to be car­ried up the stairs to take his seat.

But Eiko and Fu­nago's elec­tion re­vealed the lim­its of those ren­o­va­tions. Both law­mak­ers use spe­cial re­clined chairs that re­quire ad­just­ments in the cham­ber. Their re­liance on helpers to com­mu­ni­cate has also re­quired a change in the rules, al­low­ing their car­ers to help them by push­ing vot­ing but­tons or read­ing state­ments.


The pair has faced some crit­i­cism, with a tweet declar­ing their pres­ence in par­lia­ment "a nui­sance" that would im­pede speedy de­lib­er­a­tions draw­ing 49,000 likes and 23,000 retweets. They en­tered par­lia­ment at a time when Ja­pan is work­ing to bet­ter ac­com­mo­date peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties ahead of the 2020 Par­a­lympic Games.

Ja­pan's gov­ern­ment says there are 9.63mn peo­ple with phys­i­cal, men­tal or in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties in the coun­try, ac­count­ing for more than seven per cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion. Progress has been made, with ac­ces­si­bil­ity im­prov­ing in Tokyo and leg­is­la­tion set­ting quo­tas for hir­ing peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in gov­ern­ment.

But rights ac­tivists say more must be done: the gov­ern­ment was ear­lier forced to apol­o­gise for pad­ding its dis­abil­ity hir­ing data, af­ter fail­ing to meet its own quo­tas.

"It's im­por­tant that we, those with dis­abil­i­ties, go out and raise our voices," said Shinya Ando, 45, who was paral­ysed from the chest down af­ter a mo­tor­bike ac­ci­dent in his teens. He runs Per­sonal As­sis­tant Machida, a firm which dis­patches some 250 helpers to dis­abled peo­ple.

It also em­ploys 15 peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, in­clud­ing some in man­age­rial roles, by pro­vid­ing them with helpers while at work.

He wants to see in­clu­sion rather than just ac­cep­tance of peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, and said the elec­tion of Fu­nago and Eiko was a sur­prise, but a pos­i­tive one.

"It was like leap­ing two steps for­ward at once," he said.

"I thought 'now so­ci­ety will change'."

(AFP pho­tos)

This pic­ture taken on De­cem­ber 2, 2019, shows Per­sonal As­sis­tant Machida founder Shinya Ando (right), who was paral­ysed from the chest down af­ter a mo­tor­bike ac­ci­dent in his teens, in his of­fice in Machida in Tokyo pre­fec­ture

This file pic­ture taken on Au­gust 1, 2019, shows wheel­chair-bound Ja­panese law­mak­ers Eiko Kimura (top, sec­ond right) and Ya­suhiko Fu­nago (top right) at­tend­ing a ses­sion in the Up­per House ple­nary hall in Tokyo

An em­ployee of Per­sonal As­sis­tant Machida gets off a ve­hi­cle af­ter ar­riv­ing at of­fice

An em­ployee of Per­sonal As­sis­tant Machida at work

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