By Barrier Free Japan
April 6 2023
KOBE – I have been unable to walk without pain for the last few days and whilst I have a physical disability, my disability – cerebral palsy – does not usually cause me to experience constant pain. The reason I was in pain and unable to walk without pain is because someone decided to help me.
My particular version of cerebral palsy is left-sided spastic hemiplegia. Essentially, whilst I can move my left side a bit, enough to walk at least, I have limited mobility and sensation. This, amongst other things, means that the strap of my backpack is often down on my arm rather than on my shoulder. The lack of sensation means that I don’t notice that the strap has fallen off my shoulder and is now on my arm.
I also have a ‘Help Mark’ attached to my backpack because, along with my cerebral palsy, I also have an invisible disability.
If you are unfamiliar with the ‘Help Mark’, it 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.
All of which is fine until this happens, and it happens often; someone comes from behind me and decides to ‘help’ me by grabbing the strap on my left arm and firmly placing it on my left shoulder. This is a painful and frightening experience, as since they often come from behind, I think I am being attacked and either way I have to put up with a few days of being in pain from my arm being yanked.
These experiences makes me question the wisdom of attaching a ‘Help Mark’ to my backpack.
When I try to talk about this, people often respond angrily, by exclaiming ‘they were trying to help!’ I do not doubt that they were trying to help, but let me leave you with this question:
if I saw a young Japanese woman with a backpack strap halfway down her arm and thought it needed adjusting and did so; would that be viewed as ‘trying to help’ or would it be viewed as assault?
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