From The Mainichi
July 19 2022
A Japanese law to facilitate access to and use of various information by people with disabilities has entered force. The legislation is expected to be a foothold for pushing to make information barrier-free, in addition to removing physical barriers at stations, buildings, roads, and other places.
The national and local governments have a duty to create specific policies and carry them out. It is crucial to listen to the voices of concerned parties when executing such ideas.
Swift action must be taken to build a system ensuring that disaster-related information reaches people with disabilities, which could mean the difference between life and death.
When creating hazard maps that visualize flood disaster risks and indicate evacuation shelters, many local governments have not made Braille or audio description versions.
At the Miyagi Prefecture town of Minamisanriku, which was devastated by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the mortality rate among all residents was 3.5%, while that among people with disabilities was 13%. It has been pointed out that accurate information on evacuation may not have been accessible at the time.
It is also necessary to expand efforts related to elections. Although official bulletins using Braille, audio, and enlarged characters have been offered during national elections, such measures are still insufficient for local elections.
There are also issues in how administrative bodies gather comments from the public prior to establishing legislation. Only in rare cases are the reference materials provided in Braille.
There are various ways to obtain information. Visually impaired individuals use Braille, as well as audio and enlarged characters, while those with hearing difficulties use sign language and subtitles. Deaf-blind people who have severe losses of both hearing and sight make use of “finger braille,” a system of tactile communication. The method that is suitable differs for each individual, depending on the severity of their disability.
If authorities disregard the current situation, people will be left behind in accessing information just because they have a disability. Without delay, the central and local governments must train personnel capable of assisting communication, such as reading and writing papers on behalf of those with disabilities, serving as a sign language interpreter at consultation desks, and providing summarized transcriptions of speeches for people who are hard of hearing.
It is hoped that administrative bodies in Japan will aid the development of devices and services that improve accessibility to information, among other efforts, and strive to close the gap between people with and without disabilities. It is also important to specify standards related to devices and services that can be easily used by anyone, and encourage the spread of products that are created while following these rules.
Taking measures to guarantee equal access to information for everyone in Japan is essential in realizing an inclusive society. An environment where people with disabilities can lead a comfortable life is also one where everyone can live at ease.