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Tokyo Paralympics: The lowdown on being disabled in Japan

Ns News Online Desk:Ns News Online Desk: Tokyo is a fast-paced city full of high rise buildings and a public transport system to envy. Some people call it futuristic – but how does the home of the delayed 2020 Paralympics shape-up for disabled people? We talk to three disabled residents to get the lowdown.

Mizuki Hsu, 32, calls herself a moon rider, a term she coined to represent adventurous wheelchair-users who like to travel and explore.

While she says cities are busy and reasonably accessible she finds people in the country have more time to stop and help if she needs a hand.

Japan has focused on creating a “barrier-free” country for disabled people since it was awarded the Games in 2013.

But Mizuki believes stigma is still a problem. “I feel it’s very common that people gaze at me in public and some strangers tell me how pitiful I am.

“Inclusion of people within the community still has a long way to go.”For Josh Grisdale, 40, his outlook on disability in Japan is different having grown-up in Canada.

Josh first visited Japan in 2000 after being inspired by a teacher at his high school.

After learning the language he moved there in 2007 and in 2016, at the age of 35, became a citizen, relinquishing his Canadian passport.
Josh Grisdale, creator of Accessible Japan, in his wheelchair.When he applied for citizenship he was worried that being disabled might hamper him but says the positive reaction “blew me away”.

“You hear all these horror stories of people trying to emigrate to the States or Canada and because they need to use the healthcare system they’ve been denied permission. I wasn’t once asked about my disability, which I think was just amazing.”

Josh, who runs the travel blog Accessible Japan, was able to use the welfare system as soon as he was registered. His needs were assessed within his ward of Edogawa and he was issued with a disability “passport” citing his requirements. He was allocated funding for carers, and equipment such as a wheelchair.

On a side note, one way Japan raises money for disability services is a little like how the UK raises money for its “good causes” – through gambling. Japan doesn’t rely on six balls and a bonus ball, instead it uses the proceeds from the popular sport of boat racing.Mizuki grew up in Kyoto, west Japan. As a toddler she lost the use of her legs following a mysterious illness. “My mom told me that she thought she would need to always be with me and carry me place-to-place.” That isn’t what happened but it did raise challenges.

Tokyo has almost 14m residents, for comparison, London has 9m. Buildings are often built upwards, not outwards, to accommodate the population.

As a result, anything, including public services, could be spread across multiple stores.
Mizuki in her wheelchair with one of her daughters following In the 90s, Mizuki’s parents didn’t want her to go to a special school, instead, they got her into a local mainstream school, but they had to compromise on accessibility.

Mizuki’s classes were often on different floors and the school didn’t have a lift. While it fitted handrails up the staircases, “I had to go up and down stairs by myself,” Mizuki says. This meant hauling herself up by the arms.

Her parents also provided a wheelchair for every floor of the school so Mizuki could get around with her classmates, independently

Two decades on, Mizuki is a mother herself and the problem has come full-circle. It was almost impossible to find a nursery where she was able to go inside and drop off her children because of stairs, and ramps which were too steep.”It was a very difficult and challenging time, but fortunately I found one. They are very supportive, but it is the only one.”

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