A push is underway to create smaller, community-integrated group homes for people with disabilities in the wake of last year’s mass murder at a large, outdated care facility.
Around 130,000 people with disabilities are currently accommodated in some 2,600 large facilities built in relatively isolated locations across Japan in line with decades-old policy.
The Tsukui Yamayuri En in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, the site of the killings of 19 residents with intellectual disabilities by a former worker a year ago, was one such facility.
The government has since changed policy in line with an international trend to promote small group homes for people with disabilities to help them live in communities, rather than shunting them off to remote facilities.
The central government set a target in November that about 11,000 people with disabilities will move from large facilities to smaller homes in the next four years.
Thousands of people with disabilities have continued living in big facilities due largely to their individual conditions, including old age, and the lack of readiness of many communities to support them.
Tsukui Yamayuri En was built in 1964 in line with the policy at the time to set up large care homes to “protect people with disabilities and alleviate their families’ burden.”
As of April 2016, or about three months before the Sagamihara rampage, some 150 people with intellectual disabilities aged between 19 and 75 were accommodated at that facility.
About 80 percent of them were deemed as having the “most serious” impairments and the “most need” of support, meaning they required help going to the toilet and round-the-clock monitoring.
They had been in the care home for an average of 18 years, and some had spent more than 50 years in institutions.
Satoshi Uematsu is accused of killing 19 residents with intellectual disabilities, as well as wounding 24 others and two staff members on July 26, 2016, after breaking into Tsukui Yamayuri En, where he had formerly worked.
The incident was especially shocking because he had reportedly told others that “disabled people create misfortune” and that he “wanted to euthanize them.”
The facility has since been vacated and its residents relocated. Its buildings are due to be demolished and whether a new facility will be erected there has not been decided.
Shiro Asano, a former senior welfare ministry official and governor of Miyagi, said other people may share some of Uematsu’s beliefs.
“Of course they would not commit such a crime, but many have discriminatory thoughts that the disabled are pitiful people who cannot do anything, because they do not know them,” he said in an interview in early June. “They do not know they have a lot they can do despite their disabilities, and they are living normally.”
Asano said he has been promoting small group homes since 1987.
In fiscal 1989, 100 such small homes were launched and the number has since topped 7,000.
Asano said that if people with disabilities live in normal communities, they will establish relationships with the local residents, and this will result in the latter coming to accept them.
“Once they become familiar, the residents would find they are not pitiful people who cannot do anything,” he said. “It is vital to shift (people with disabilities) to communities so they are not excluded and their presence in communities becomes natural.”