The nation’s first public phones allowing communication via sign language were set up Sunday at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
The system, activated on Sunday, the U.N. International Day of Persons with Disabilities, allows people with hearing problems to sign in front of a monitor so an interpreter can convey the message by voice to the person on the other end.
According to the Nippon Foundation, which started offering the service on a private basis in 2013, the sign-language phone is now in use in more than 20 countries and is widely used at public facilities as a barrier-free tool for exchanging information.
Two of the new phones have been set up on the second floor of Haneda’s departure lobby (one for each domestic terminal), and can be used between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. free of charge.
The Nippon Foundation said it aims to set up more at four other major airports in Japan before the end of fiscal 2017 in March.
Yoshihiro Hasegawa, chairman of the Japan Federation of the Deaf, said the relay service was used in June by four boaters with impaired hearing to request emergency rescue when their engine stalled and their vessel began to sink off Aichi Prefecture.
“Accessing information is important for us because it gives us the chance to not only participate in society, but also save lives,” Hasegawa said.
Transport minister Keiichi Ishii said he hopes Japan’s barrier-free environments will grow bigger and spread nationwide with the encouragement of passengers who use the new facilities at Haneda airport.