By Barrier Free Japan with extracts from The Tokyo Shimbun
January 12 2022
TOKYO – Masako Okawara (68), a member of the House of Representatives and a member of the Constitutional Democratic Party who uses a wheelchair; as well as Eiko Kimura (56) & and Yasuhiko Funago (64), whom are in the House of Councilors and are members of Reiwa Shinsengumi, were asked by The Tokyo Shimbun about what it is like to work in the Diet with a disability.
Masako Okawara: “I had to take the elevator many times to get to the main conference hall from the office of the Diet Members’ Office Building, and it was hard to remember the directions. I also voted at the main conference hall. I have to go behind the ministerial seats to the podium. I have to go to the committee room for a few minutes of meetings. I’m really experiencing democracy…We have to make sure that reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities does not go in the wrong direction or in the direction of exclusion. “
Eiko Kimura was asked: “How do you evaluate the barrier-free nature of the Upper House?
Eiko Kimura: “I’m really glad that the slope to the podium was set up in the plenary session. It’s important to stand on the podium when speaking as a member of the severely disabled. However, the space in the hall is limited. The width of the slope is just the width of the electric wheelchair, and the flow line to the slope is very narrow, so driving an electric wheelchair is very nerve-wracking. When Mr. Funago and I were elected, people with severe disabilities became members of the Diet for the first time, so attention was paid to making the Diet barrier-free. The House of Councilors Steering Committee and the Secretariat took care of us. They thought about how to renovate it together. I was wondering if nothing would change if I didn’t speak out by myself, so the luck and the secretariat actively moved. It was very impressive. Compared to that, the House of Representatives is not in such a position and I think it is treated very differently. I feel a barrier in my heart.”
Yasuhiko Funago said: “”In the Diet, various barrier-free facilities have been promoted, such as the construction and renovation of barrier-free toilets in the plenary session and annex, the installation of slopes and stair lifts to eliminate steps, and the construction and increase in size of elevators. A slope was set up at the plenary session of the House of Representatives, and on March 26, when the initial budget was approved, a name vote was held using the slope of the plenary session for the first time in the history of constitutional administration. Many members applauded. I was impressed. The environment is being improved to make it easier for me to use the wheelchair all the time.
It’s not just the hardware side. At the Educational Science Committee to which I belong, I bring in a computer or monitor with a voice reading function for me who can not speak, read questions by secretaries, and while creating questions on the dial when re-questioning Has received reasonable accommodation such as stopping shorthand and not including it in the question time, accompanied by a caregiver.
This kind of barrier-free is not just for me. For example, slopes and handrails are installed in the plenary session, so even injured or ill people can take the stage without anxiety. I am confident that it will be useful for the following members of the Diet with disabilities.
We believe that by making it barrier-free, we will connect to a Diet where various parties can work comfortably, which will lead to a diverse Diet and a diverse society. “