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Staff writer

Nobuo Takagi, 39, considers himself an ordinary Tokyo resident. But since he lost his eyesight several years ago, he feels he has been deprived of one of the most basic civil rights: the right to vote.

Although he casts a braille ballot at every election, Takagi, who lives alone, does not receive enough information to judge which candidate may be best.

Before an election, he receives a thick book of candidate profiles in braille mailed from his local election administration committee in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward.

Like many other people who have lost their eyesight in the course of life, Takagi cannot read braille.

Audiotape information on candidates in national or local elections is only available in some municipal polls, including in Kobe, Osaka and Kawasaki.

“As long as there is no information available for us,” he said, “our voting right is not guaranteed in reality.”

Takagi, who used to work in the pharmaceutical business, does not have any particular interest in politics. However, he said, “I began to have a stronger will to commit to social responsibility after I became disabled.”

“Maybe I feel I can get back in society by contributing something to it,” he added.

He filed a petition with the Human Rights Protection Committee of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations two years ago.

The committee is now conducting a nationwide survey on election administration commissions to gauge their measures for protecting the voting rights of the disabled.

Takagi was one of the panelists at a meeting that the bar federation hosted last weekend in Tokyo on the rights of the disabled. The event attracted more than 200 people, including some with white canes and guide dogs and some in wheelchairs.

Besides the lack of access to sufficient election information, another problem is that some voters cannot cast their ballots even though they have chosen a candidate.

For example, people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — a disease that attacks the motor nerves and eventually is fatal — cannot vote, lawyer Susumu Murakoshi said at the gathering.

Under the current system, ballots can be mailed by those who cannot go to the polls. But this does not work for ALS patients who cannot move their hands — the system requires voters to write candidates’ names with their own hand, Murakoshi said.

Kaoru Hirakawa, a Home Affairs Ministry official who attended the meeting, explained that the apparently pesky rules are important for preventing election fraud.

But Hideo Inoue, a law professor at Kanazawa University, said he thinks regulations on political activities, not only voting but also election campaigns, should be eased so people can discuss and participate in politics more freely.

In Denmark, election commissions hire a sufficient number of monitors to guarantee fairness and ensure that the disabled can vote, he added.

Yoshiki Takeshita, a Kyoto-based lawyer who is blind, said, “The government always puts emphasis on the participation of the disabled in society, but the right to vote is one of the basics to that end.”

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