Kaori Honda recalls how she was shocked around two years ago when a railway official rejected her request for help with her daughter’s wheelchair as they were about to ride the train.
“Ramps can’t be used for baby buggies,” the official said.
Since then, Honda, a 36-year-old resident of the city of Osaka and mother of a 5-year-old girl with a cranial nerve disease, has been devoting her time to raising awareness of the buggy-like wheelchairs designed for children with disabilities.
Although the wheelchair Honda’s daughter uses looks exactly like a baby buggy, it is essentially a wheelchair, which can secure children in their seats based on their disability or sickness.
These wheelchairs are specifically designed for children of elementary school age but can weigh several dozen kilograms.
Honda’s eldest daughter, Momoka, was 6 months old when she was diagnosed with a cranial nerve disease. She cannot stand on her own and cannot go out without her wheelchair.
Honda’s experience at the station inspired her to raise public awareness of the special wheelchairs to help those in a similar plight. One way was to put up posters across Japan.
Yayoi Kojima, a 39-year-old mom in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, is one of those people.
Kojima, whose 6-year-old daughter, Akari, has refractory epilepsy, says she feels the stares of those around her when they board the train for hospital visits. She feels the stares seem to implicitly question her for letting a grown-up child continue using a baby buggy.
Honda learned through her blog that many other people with the wheelchairs have had similar experiences. Some complained about getting insensitive remarks, such as being told to fold up their “baby buggy” or being scolded for not letting their child walk.
In September 2015, Honda set up a group called mina family and continues to put a great deal of effort into creating posters and symbols to mark the specialized wheelchairs, as well as hold study groups on the issue.
Thanks to her networking efforts, the group has received orders for key holders bearing the special wheelchair symbols from all around Japan. And around 7,000 posters have so far been distributed to hospitals and trains.
The Osaka municipal subway system, for one, has created its own version of the posters and put them up in all of its stations to inform commuters that the buggy-type wheelchairs exist.
Honda is keen to expand the group’s activities, saying she hopes that public understanding and support for addressing her daughter’s disease and the disability itself will spread further by raising awareness of these special wheelchairs for children.