Third in a series

Staff writer

KOBE — A new way of thinking, such as recognizing the energy of disabled people, is needed to revitalize the country’s low-spirited politics and raise voter interest, according to Nami Takenaka, a leader of Prop Station, a nonprofit organization promoting employment of the disabled.

“Politics is supposed to raise people’s spirits. But right now, I don’t see politicians who present a vision that gives vigor to the people,” said Takenaka, who started the Osaka-based group in 1991. Takenaka proudly said her group’s mottoes are “high spirits” and “enjoyment.” The group holds computer seminars for people with disabilities, aiming to help them land computer-related jobs.

In an interview held during one such seminar in this port city, the mother of a severely disabled daughter stressed that people who join the group’s activities become lighthearted and stimulated, seeing disabled people trying to obtain work skills at the same level as those without disabilities. “The next-generation politicians are those who can turn the energy of ‘challenged’ people into the energy of the nation. It does not matter which political party they belong to. It would be good if such politicians are united beyond party lines,” said Takenaka, who does not see such a political landscape yet.

Takenaka’s activities are based on the concept that disabled people have the ability to work if they are provided with good opportunities, such as job training and a chance to work. The group’s slogan is “Let’s make challenged people taxpayers.”

Historically, the country’s welfare policy was ostensibly designed to protect disabled people by separating them from the rest of society and doling out welfare benefits. This policy deprived them of an opportunity to become independent, she pointed out.

The central government did not get around to adopting the so-called normalization policy, to help disabled people seeking to live a life in the same way as those without impairments, until 1995. “People want to be proud, which can only be achieved by doing something they don’t necessarily want to do or by achieving something difficult. Both the ruling parties and the opposition parties in the past made the same mistake by spoiling challenged people with government subsidies,” Takenaka said.

However, Takenaka refused to turn her back on the current political scene, which is often criticized as being lifeless, saying she is also engaged through her activities at Prop Station. “We are presenting our way of thinking through our own way of taking action. Our activities are about to become a movement. So what I am doing is a political activity. I’m a part of politics although I don’t have a Diet member’s badge,” Takenaka said.

She believes the concept of a group supporting the independence of disabled people can breathe fresh air into the current political scene because the idea, if it prevails, can also change the minds of voters. “It is wrong to think in terms of what politicians can do for us. This type of thinking means only those who want politicians to do them a favor go to the polls,” Takenaka said.

In 1995, in the last Upper House election, the voter turnout was a record-low 44.5 percent. This was blamed on political apathy and an inactive political scene. “Voters should not only make a choice based on the visions presented by politicians, but also hold their own visions. If they complain about the current political scene, they have to demonstrate that they won’t accept it,” Takenaka said.

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