KYOTO — Blind lawyer Yoshiki Takeshita has spearheaded the creation of a legal network that aims to eliminate discrimination and human rights abuses against disabled people.
The network, founded here Saturday, comprises 50 lawyers from across the country, several of whom are disabled. Its members are looking to share information and experiences and thus deal with cases involving disabled clients more effectively.
The network will accept calls relating to human rights abuses and discrimination, and assign suitable member lawyers to these cases.
“Although there are a number of cases involving individuals with disabilities, many lawyers are dealing with them by groping in the dark,” Takeshita said. “It will improve the situation if lawyers can seek advice from those lawyers who have some experience in the field.”
Takeshita, 51, lost his eyesight at the age of 14 in a sumo wrestling accident.
His strenuous efforts to effect his goal of becoming a lawyer — as well as the support he received from those around him — led to his taking the first braille version of the national bar examination in 1973.
After several attempts, Takeshita eventually became the nation’s first completely blind person to pass the exam in 1981. He started practicing law in 1984.
Only 20 to 30 of Japan’s 20,000 lawyers regularly deal with disability cases. This means there are a number of regions across the nation where there is an absence of legal representation in this regard, according to Takeshita.
The network hopes to solve the problem of finding lawyers that specialize in cases of this kind, he said.
“We would like to create a situation where anybody can ask for lawyers no matter where they live,” Takeshita said.
The relatively small number of lawyers that specialize in disability cases is attributable to the fact that the rewards are relatively meager.
Takeshita, who regularly undertakes cases of this kind, said he makes up his financial losses by doing other common civil cases involving people without disabilities.
He devotes a third of his time to disability cases, a third to ordinary cases and a third to other social activities, he said.
Although disability cases are not financially rewarding, they bring other benefits, such as job satisfaction, he said.
“Dealing with cases involving the disabled brings me back to the fundamental point of being a human being.”
The network will strive to establish a law that bans discrimination against people with disabilities, the creation of which is also being promoted by the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
Japan is alone among industrialized countries in not having a law of this kind.
In the U.S., for instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was introduced in 1990 to guarantee equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
One reason why Japan lags behind, Takeshita said, is that disabled individuals have failed to recognize their rights as citizens and have failed to raise their voices in an effort to improve their situation by involving other people, including politicians.
“Some disabled people do not even have a sense that their human rights are being violated as they have been living under such conditions for so many years,” Takeshita said.
“Even if they knew something was wrong, they might not have information on lawyers who would work for them to fight for their rights, and with whom they could build up mutual trust. By setting up the network, I hope that more people will be aware of the problem and take actions.”
The network’s secretariat has been set up within the Tokyo office of Tateo Shimizu, which can be reached at (03) 5568-7601.
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