February 17th 2019
TOKYO — Paralympic medalists have inspected parts of the capital’s Koto Ward, host to two Tokyo 2020 swimming venues, to see if the area meets the growing demand for easier access for people with disabilities.
A Mainichi Shimbun reporter joined the athletes’ first check of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics venue sites on Jan. 20. The aim: to assess the current environment as well as facilities with barrier-free concepts. The meeting point with Paralympians Association of Japan (PAJ) chairman Junichi Kawai, 43, and former Japan national wheelchair basketball player Katsumi Miyake, 48, was outside the Tokyo Metro’s Tatsumi Station ticket gate.
Just after exchanging greetings, however, Miyake rushed back into the station. He returned sometime later and explained that the accessible washroom outside the gates was broken, so he had to use the one inside.
“There aren’t many bathrooms for wheelchair users so I can’t hesitate even if I have to go back in,” he said. Miyake’s remark hinted at a major challenge in improving the washroom situation at stations near venues.
The Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center is being revamped for the 2020 games, and the new Tokyo Aquatics Center is scheduled for completion by February 2020. Of the two routes to the venues, we decided to first use a footbridge in front of the station, built over a wide metropolitan road, and to try crossing the road itself on the return journey.
Although the footbridge did not have steps and was thus “wheelchair-friendly,” Miyake said the slope was steep. Kawai, who competed as a Paralympic swimmer with visual impairment, also felt that the passing bicycles were “a bit scary” and worried about his safety.
We came to Tatsumi no Mori Ryokudo Koen park and spotted bollards standing at its entrance. Although bollards can prevent illegal parking and slow down bicycles, they become barriers for wheelchair users and people with visual impairments. People on wheelchairs have to take a detour if the posts are installed close together.
There were many spots before reaching the bollards that lacked tactile paving to assist pedestrians with visual impairments. Neither acoustic traffic signals nor pedestrian crossing buttons for the visually impaired were installed at the intersection closest to the swimming center. The PAJ members had a difficult time crossing the street, though it was not very wide, as the traffic was relatively heavy.
After inspecting the area around the swimming center, the men headed toward the Tokyo Aquatics Center and found many bollards inside a residential complex. However, there was a phone booth for wheelchair users next to the center, still under construction. “This is rare. And it’s also remarkable that the doors can be opened so easily,” Miyake said approvingly.
To return to Tatsumi Station, the men crossed the metropolitan road. Although pedestrian crossing buttons with audio guidance had been installed, the sounds were often lost in the traffic noise.
“Even though there were some issues, we found no major problem with the station itself,” commented Kawai after they finished their checks. He added, “It’s dangerous to have too many bollards. Since there’s still time until the Tokyo Games, we hope that relevant elements are improved.”