July 25th 2019
TOKYO – Japan’s upper house steering committee agreed Thursday to start renovation work in parliament to provide barrier-free accessibility after two candidates with severe physical disabilities were elected as lawmakers.
The House of Councillors will also allow caregivers to enter the upper house chamber to assist Yasuhiko Funago, 61, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, and 54-year-old Eiko Kimura, who has cerebral palsy. The work will be completed by Aug. 1 before an extraordinary session begins.
Funago and Kimura won their seats in Sunday’s upper house election after both ran as candidates for Reiwa Shinsengumi, a political group founded in April by actor-turned-lawmaker Taro Yamamoto to challenge the establishment and status quo.
In the upper house, electric power sources will be installed in the chamber and committee rooms so the lawmakers will be able to use them to power electric wheelchairs and medical equipment.
As for voting in the chamber, caregivers will be able to press voting buttons for the lawmakers. If the lawmakers need to write names on ballots on such occasions as choosing the upper house chair, caregivers will be allowed to fill in the names on their behalf, lawmakers said.
The steering committee had been tasked with looking for ways to ensure that Funago and Kimura can participate fully in lawmaking sessions, including by making modifications inside the Diet building and introducing new procedural rules.
Yamamoto has said, “The political process in the Diet will not be determined only by healthy people anymore.”
Past accommodations by the Diet included documents in Braille for lawmakers with weak eyesight. When Eita Yashiro, 82, elected to the upper house in 1977, began using a wheelchair, a slope was installed and a seat taken out to ensure he could participate in sessions. Ramps and multipurpose restrooms are now par for the course.
But Funago and Kimura’s disabilities are considered more severe than those of their predecessors.
“Both of them are Diet members elected by the people. We are going to make the best support system we can so they will be able to be fully active,” a senior upper house official said.
Funago, who has had no limb mobility since 2008, depends on a special sensor that detects his biting moves to control a computer to communicate. During his campaign, Funago, who is the vice president of a nursing business, depended on someone to read his speeches.
He and Kimura, who has had cerebral palsy since she was eight months old and also has restricted physical mobility, both depend on caregivers to get around.
“Until this point, no one had thought that people with severe physical disabilities would become politicians,” said Sae Okura, an assistant professor of politics at Mie University.
“In terms of creating policies for diverse people, both (of them) being elected is extremely meaningful in both practical and symbolic terms,” she added.