National / Social Issues

Program targets social barriers for people with disabilities

by Nobuhiro Ishizuka


Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the enactment of a law banning discrimination against people with disabilities on April 1, a program called Disability Equality Training has attracted attention from municipalities and universities in Japan.

The program is aimed at raising awareness mainly among people without disabilities and creating a better society for disabled people, based on the concept that people are disadvantaged by social barriers.

In February, about 20 students and officials of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government took part in the training program organized by Keio University in Yokohama.

The participants watched a short film depicting a world where nondisabled people face various kinds of discrimination.

It showed a nondisabled main character being prevented from getting on a bus only for wheelchair users, and facing embarrassment at a job interview.

The training program is being offered by the Disability Equality Training Forum, a nonprofit organization based in Tokyo.

Conventional programs have mainly focused on how to assist people with disabilities, and have therefore failed to make nondisabled people understood the issue, too, said Ryoko Yamazaki, 46, a wheelchair user who served as a moderator at the event in Yokohama.

The new program is aimed at encouraging people to “realize that disabilities disappear if people around change” their attitudes, said Yamazaki.

Stairs are barriers for wheelchair users, but the barriers disappear if ramps are set up. Likewise, barrier-free minds could help put an end to discrimination, she added.

According to the DET Forum, its training courses have been held about 60 times across Japan since 2014, with more than 1,200 participants taking part so far.

Of those, 48 people with physical or mental disabilities have received 60 hours of special training to serve as moderators for the program.

The scheme was adopted at the time of the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics for the event’s volunteers.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, more than 90,000 volunteers are expected to be mobilized for the Tokyo Olympics.

Yasushi Nakano, a Keio University professor specializing in barrier-free issues, said, “To change society, companies need to change.”

“I would like to spread the training program to universities nationwide so that students, when they start working, can take initiatives to help end discrimination in their workplaces,” he added.