DISABLED AND HANDICAPPED PEOPLE IN JAPAN: DIFFICULTIES, HELP AND TECHNOLOGY

DISABLED AND HANDICAPPED PEOPLE IN JAPAN

According to Health and Welfare ministry statistics in 1999, there are 3.17 million physically disabled Japanese and 2.6 million who are mentally ill or handicapped. There are 983 special schools for the handicapped with 87,000 pupils.

Japan won 16 medals--five gold, five silver and six bronze---at the London Paralympics I 2012. Japan ranked 23th in the overall medal standings, falling short of the 27 medals won at the previous Paralympic Games in Beijing. China took the top spot with 231 medals in London. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 11, 2012]

Shingo Kunieda won his second consecutive gold medal in men's singles wheelchair tennis by beating Stephane Houdet of France, in straight sets. Kunieda became the first player to win consecutive gold medals in the event. To help ease his nervousness, Kunieda played the final with a sticker on his racket with "I'm the strongest" written on it.When the match ended, Kunieda looked skyward with tears in his eyes. "In the end, I had my best game," he said. Also Saturday, Tomoya Ito took silver in his 200-meter wheelchair race, securing his third silver medal of the 2012 Paralympics following his 400- and 800-meter wheelchair races. [Ibid]

At the Paraolympics in Beijing in 2008, Japan had its lowest haul in 20 years with 27 medals: five golds, 14 silver and 8 bronze medals.

Links in this Website: HEALTH IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;HEALTH CUSTOMS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HEALTH CARE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HEALTH CARE PROBLEMS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ORGAN TRANSPLANTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HIGH TECH MEDICINE AND MEDICAL ADVANCES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DISEASES AND HEALTH PROBLEMS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HANDICAPPED PEOPLE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Good Websites and Sources on Health and Health Care: Handicapped Travel Guide for wheelchair users Tesco-Premium; Statistical Handbook of Japan Health Care and Public Hygiene Section stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook ; 2010 Edition stat.go.jp/english/data/nenkan ; News stat.go.jp ; World Health Organization Japan who.int/countries/jpn ; Center for Disease Control in Atlanta CDC ; Medical Information for Foreigners pref.osaka.jp/iryo/medicalinfo ; Medical Resources by region compiled by U.S. Embassy /tokyo.usembassy.gov ; Japanese Government Organizations: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare mhlw.go.jp/english ; National Institute of Public Health niph.go.jp ; National Institute of Health Sciences nihs.go.jp ; National Institute of Health and Nutrition nih.go.jp/eiken

Help for Handicapped People in Japan

Handicapped people are relatively visible on the streets and on television. A lot of high-tech devices have been developed to help them: wheelchairs full of gadgets and vans and cars with sophisticated lifts for wheelchairs.

"Intelligent wheelchairs" dodge obstacles. Automated walkers help patients walk by sensing pressure from their hands and automatically activate their brakes when going downhill. Special artificial muscles have been developed that use pumped air to help disabled people move her limbs.

A lot of money has been spent on developing robots to assist handicapped people. SECOM company has developed Mr. Spoon, the first mass-produced robot to assist the feeding of the disabled. Helping quadriplegic eat on their own, each robot consists of a motorized arms that extends to the mouth of the user, who controls it with a small laser he or she nudges with her cheek with a laser and a laser-sensitive control panel. Researchers at Waseda University have developed a robot than can carry a person up and down stairs.

Many handicapped people rely on "guide-helpers," provided free-of-charge by local government programs to go to the supermarket and run errands. The helpers have to be booked in advance and generally only work during the day.

Matsushita had developed an advanced robotic walking assistant that increases a person’s strength sevenfold. Designed do help the elderly and the disabled, it moves in different directions and can negotiate inclines. It is available to special institutions for ¥20 million and scheduled do be commercially available in 2015 for ¥3.5 million.

Help for Blind People in Japan

There are 160,000 legally blind people in Japan. Many sidewalks, road crossings, intersections, stairways and train and subway station platforms have yellow strips with raised dots and dashes that help blind people navigate their way around and avoid injury. They were first installed in the 1960s.

Charities help blind people pay for the rearing and training of guided dogs, which can cost between $20,000 and $80,000 in Japan.

Waseda University’s Science and Engineering Faulty have developed a smart cane for blind people that indicates direction a user should go by reacting to integrated circuit to installed in textured paving blocks. The handle has a device that moves when it detects an IC tag

Difficulties for Handicapped People in Japan

Even with all the high-tech gadgetry difficulties abound for handicapped people. Only 43 of Tokyo's 235 subway stations have elevators. In many cases wheelchair users have to page an attendant to carry them up and down the stairs.

Blind people worry about getting hit by a cars and falling off train station platforms. Several blind people over the years have fallen to their death off station platform. Blind people with guide dogs complain they are refused entry into supermarkets, restaurants, hotels and taxis.

The Japanese legal code contains around 300 "disqualifying clauses" that prevent handicapped people from obtaining drivers licenses or entering certain professions. For example people with hearing disabilities can't work as doctors or other medical professionals. Color-blind people can't work for railroads, even as ticket punchers.

Many acupuncturists in Asia are blind because many people there believe the blind have a more sensitive sense of touch than sighted people. They generally receive their training at special schools for the blind. Blind people traditionally have had few job options other than being an acupuncturist or a masseuse.

Advances By Handicapped People in Japan

Survivor stories were very popular in the early 2000s. No One's Perfect, an upbeat autobiography by Hirotada Otatoke a young man born with stumps for arms and legs, sold more than 5 million copies.

No One's Perfect is the second bestselling book in Japan since World War II. Hirotada’s is quite extraordinary. When he was born, his mother didn't faint from shock, instead she said "How cute he is." As a youth he attended regular schools rather than schools for the handicapped. He played on the school basketball team, dribbling the ball with his stumps, and won admission to prestigious Waseda University. He married a fellow student and worked as television journalist.

Satoshi Fukushima is a deaf and blind associate professor at Tokyo University's Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology.

Some of the advances achieved by handicapped people are the result of efforts by politicians to make buses and subways easier for their elderly constituents to handle.

In August 2006, a wheelchair-bound, paralyzed man attempted to climb Breithorn, a 4,164-meter-high mountain in the Swiss Alps on the back of friend wearing a robot exoskeleton suit---called Robot Suit HAL---that amplifies the strengths of its wearer. The disabled man didn’t make it to the top but made it more than halfway up the mountain. Developers of the HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) suit at Tsukuba University near Tokyo say the in future the suit can not only help handicapped people it can also help elderly people get around.

With Robot Suit HAL a person who normally can leg press 80 kilograms is able to press 180 kilograms. Describing the suit a Reuters reporter wrote; “The sleek, high-tech get-up looks like a white suit of armor. It straps onto a persons arms, legs and back and is equipped with a computer, motors and sensors that detect electric nerve signals transmitted from the brain when a person tries to move his limbs...When the sensors detect nerve signals the computer starts up the relevant motors to assist the persons motions”

Welfare for Disabled Persons in Japan

Public welfare measures for handicapped persons are carried out on the basis of the Law for the Welfare of Physically Disabled Persons (Shintai Shogaisha Fukushi Ho), enacted in 1949; the Law for the Welfare of Mentally Handicapped Persons (Chiteki Shogaisha Fukushi Ho), enacted in 1960; and the Law concerning Basic Policies for the Handicapped (Shogaisha Kihon Ho), enacted in 1970. These laws apply to measures for people of age 18 and over since handicapped persons under the age of 18 are covered by provisions of the Child Welfare Law. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

“Welfare measures for physically handicapped persons are administered by local governments, particularly through welfare offices and rehabilitation consultation centers for physically disabled (shintai shogaisha kosei sodanjo). At these offices and centers, persons with specialized knowledge and skills consult with physically handicapped persons. They are assisted in their work by commissioned welfare volunteers (minsei iin) and consultants for physically disabled persons (shintai shogaisha sodan’in), appointed by city, town, and village governments. [Ibid]

Persons designated as physically handicapped are entitled to various public welfare services, including consultation and guidance, special rehabilitation and medical services, the replacement or repair of auxiliary equipment and devices, and accommodation in various types of rehabilitation facilities. For those who are seriously disabled, services may include grants or loans of bathtubs, chamber pots, specially designed beds, and word processors, as well as the dispatch of home helpers and medical personnel for at-home examinations. [Ibid]

“To help disabled persons to be self-reliant in society, central and local governments provide economic assistance by purchasing items which they manufacture, and various types of activities have been devised to respond to disabled persons’ needs in ways that facilitate their participation in society. Allowances for people with special disabilities (tokubetsu shogaisha teate) are provided to help disabled persons be economically self reliant, and there are special pensions through a system of support and mutual help for people with mental and physical disabilities. [Ibid]

“In the case of physically or mentally handicapped children, special child-rearing allowances (tokubetsu jido fuyo teate) are provided to legal guardians who raise these children at home. Allowances are rated according to the extent of the disabilities. Educational facilities include schools for blind persons, schools for deaf persons, residential schools where special care is provided, and special classes within public schools. In recent years it has become more common for handicapped children to receive education together with normal children in ordinary schools. Emphasis is also given to measures aimed at preventing the development of handicaps. For example, in keeping with the provisions of the Maternal and Child Health Law (Boshi Hoken Ho), enacted in 1965, health examinations and guidance are provided to pregnant women. [Ibid]

“In Japan, as in other countries, the concept of “normalization” has received increasing attention in recent years. The aim of normalization is to create a barrier-free society where handicapped persons can be self-reliant and engage freely in social activities in their local communities. Addressing this task, in December 1995 the Japanese government put together the Government Action Plan for Persons with Disabilities: Seven-Year Normalization Strategy. Under this plan an effort was made to promote the independence of persons with disabilities and help them to live in communities as ordinary citizens. A new plan launched in 2003 continues this focus and expands the numerical targets for home helpers, day service centers, group homes, etc. [Ibid]

Facilities for Handicapped People in Japan

Universal design is based on the idea of every place being freely and easily accessible to anyone. In the case of public transportation facilities in Japan, elevators are placed in railway stations and there are “non-step” buses that passengers can enter or exit without climbing or descending stairs. This makes it possible for everyone to easily use public transportation. The government provides support to those acquiring or renovating barrier-free housing, and the standard specification has been established that public rental accommodations must be barrier free. Facilities in parks and other public places have also been improved, eliminating entrance steps and sidewalk height differences and installing toilet facilities that everyone can use easily and comfortably, thereby promoting the creation of facilities that people can use safely. Local governments nationwide are also promoting initiatives to foster communities that incorporate the concept of universal design. Meanwhile, private companies are focusing on product development based on universal design, which has led to an increase of easy-to-use products in a variety of sectors. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Tsukuba University is trying market the HAL suit commercially, saying it could be used by people with walking disabilities, for rehabilitation, or for factory labor.

Japanese Man Win the Wheelchair Division of the New York Marathon

In November 2011, John Otis wrote in the New York Times: “History was made in the New York City Marathon wheelchair divisions. Masazumi Soejima became the first Japanese champion in any of the marathon’s races by winning the men’s division in 1 hour 31 minutes 41 seconds, his personal best in New York. Soejima’s previous best time was 1:37:31 last year, when he finished second to David Weir of Britain by two seconds. [Source: John Otis, New York Times, November 7, 2012]

“Soejima, 41, dedicated his race to the children in Tohoku, Japan, who were affected by the March earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis that ensued. At the time, he was training in Boston for the Boston Marathon, which he won. Watching the disaster in Japan unfold on television was tough, he said. “I have been thinking of what I can do to cheer Japan up,” Soejima said after winning in his fifth try in New York. “I made a promise that I would win this year, and I’m happy I could.” As inspiration, he carried a flag signed by children from Tohoku that said: “Definitely Win!”

Kurt Fearnley of Australia, who set the course record in 2006, the first of his four consecutive New York victories, finished second in 1:33:56. Kota Hokinoue of Japan was third in 1:34:21. [Ibid]

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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