September 1 2022
JAPAN – The ‘Help Mark” was created by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2012 to help people with hidden impediments, or “invisible disabilities.” This includes people with prosthetic legs, artificial joints, internal ailments, and rare diseases.
The badge comes with a strap, so owners can attach it to their belongings. Tokyo officials created it in the hope of making it easier for those suffering from “invisible disabilities” to get help from others. People would recognize the mark and offer up their seats on buses and trains, or help carry luggage.
The “Help Mark” received Japan Industrial Standard certification in July 2017. It was adopted as a nationwide sign ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. The badges have been introduced in 23 prefectures and Tokyo. Some rail and bus companies have put up signs near priority seating explaining that the badges indicate a person may need assistance.
However public recognition of the sign remained low. In 2017 Michiyo Shibuya was trying to change the situation and started a volunteer group in to help raise the profile of the “Help Mark.”
Her efforts began in 2015 years ago, after reading tweets about the plight of people with hidden impediments. “Nobody offers assistance despite the ‘Help Mark’,” one message said. “Nothing will make people understand the ‘invisible disabilities’,” said another.
Michiyo herself suffers from a disease called pulmonary arterial hypertension. It is seen in only one in a million people. She cannot live without an artificial respirator, and has experiences of hovering between life and death. She says she felt it was her mission to promote understanding for the “Help Mark.”
She came up with her own “Help Mark” badge designs and made posters to raise awareness. She sent the materials to other prefectures and expressed the importance of promoting the mark to local municipalities, assemblies, and other bodies. People who saw her efforts volunteered to help from across Japan.
Michiyo has high expectations for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. She hopes to use the opportunity to promote the “Help Mark” and raise understanding for “invisible disabilities.”
She launched a new project in 2018, with an eye on the event. Through this project, she is involving more young people and those without disabilities in her campaign. For instance, she started sessions where university students teach elementary school children what the “Help Mark” means.
Michiyo said the goal of the badges is to make ‘invisible disabilities’ visible. She says it’s like an amulet for the many people who wear them.
The free-of-charge distribution of tags with the symbol had begun in all 47 prefectures in the country by October last year.
Help Mark tags are usually attached to bags and other carried items. Cards with the symbol are also carried by those in need of assistance, with information such as what kind of help they need and their emergency contacts written on the cards.
In March last year, through consultations with groups of people with disabilities, the government of Sumida Ward in eastern Tokyo created 29 types of stickers designed to be put on Help Mark tags and other items to help raise awareness of certain individual issues.
A 37-year-old civil servant and mother of a 6-year-old girl who cannot wear a face mask due to a development disorder received two types of stickers, reading “I have developmental disorder” and “I cannot wear a face mask,” respectively.
“You can understand what (the stickers) want to communicate at a glance,” the woman said. “It’s easy to understand as they have short messages with drawings.”
A Sumida Ward official said that the stickers “will hopefully help people with disabilities to live equally in society.”
Meanwhile, online resales of Help Mark tags have emerged as an issue. In one case, a Help Mark tag was sold for around ¥800 on an auction website.
In response, the prefectural government of Ishikawa asks people to write their name and address on an application form to receive Help Mark tags and gives out only one tag per person.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is also urging people to look out for such resales. However, an official said, “We can’t give a strong warning as (reselling Help Mark tags) is not illegal.”
The metropolitan government is not planning to limit the distribution of Help Mark tags as some people need multiple tags.
“Over the last 10 years, there is no change in our hope that necessary considerations will be made anywhere in the country,” the metropolitan government official said. “We want many people to know the meaning of the Help Mark.”