Barrier Free Disability Japan Politics

Japan’s Upper House begins renovations to accommodate newly elected disabled lawmakers

From Kyodo & Jiji via The Japan Times

July 28th 2019

The Upper House on Sunday started renovation work for two newly elected lawmakers with severe physical disabilities.

As Yasuhiko Funago, 61, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,and Eiko Kimura, 54, who has cerebral palsy, use bigger-than-normal wheelchairs, the Upper House removed three seats from its chamber for plenary sessions to create space for them to attend. The seats were at the back of the chamber near a doorway.

Funago and Kimura won their races in the July 21 election as candidates for Reiwa Shinsengumi, a political group founded in April by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto to “challenge the establishment and status quo.”

Regulations will be substantially eased for them. Both will be allowed to vote via caregivers during plenary sessions. Funago will be allowed to use a computer for communication and medical purposes. The usual dress code will not be strictly applied.

The chamber’s steering committee agreed Thursday to improve the barrier-free accessibility of its facilities for the two. Shinsuke Suematsu, chairman of the committee, vowed to help Funago and Kimura fully play their roles as members of the upper chamber.

Part of the renovations will be completed by Thursday before an extraordinary Diet session begins. Further renovation work, including setting up special voting buttons, will be carried out by the start of another extraordinary Diet session to be held in the fall.

Other measures to ensure barrier-free access to the Upper House include the installation of a ramp at the central entrance, which is used only when the Emperor and state guests visit the chamber and when newly elected lawmakers attend the first session after an election.

In addition, the lawmakers will be preferentially allocated rooms in the public dormitory for Upper House lawmakers and can be accompanied by caregivers overnight.

Past accommodations made by the Diet for lawmakers with special needs include providing documents in Braille for lawmakers with weak eyesight.

When wheelchair user Eita Yashiro, 82, was elected to the Upper House in 1977, a ramp was installed and a seat taken out to ensure he could take part in sessions. Ramps and multipurpose restrooms are now established features.

But Funago and Kimura’s disabilities are considered more severe than those of their predecessors.

Funago, whose condition is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, communicates using a computer that he controls with a special sensor that detects biting motions. He has had no limb mobility since 2008.

He and Kimura, who has had cerebral palsy since she was 8 months old and also has restricted physical mobility, both depend on caregivers to get around.

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