• Kyodo

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Ruling and opposition parties on Thursday agreed to renovate some parts of the Diet building in order to accommodate two newly elected Upper House lawmakers with severe physical disabilities.

They also decided to allow caregivers to enter plenary sessions to help the lawmakers vote. The renovation work will be completed by Aug. 1, before an extraordinary session begins.

The decision was made during the day’s Upper House steering committee meeting, where members discussed how to accommodate Yasuhiko Funago, 61, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and 54-year-old Eiko Kimura, who has cerebral palsy.

The two won their seats in Sunday’s Upper House election as candidates for Reiwa Shinsengumi, a political group founded in April by actor-turned-lawmaker Taro Yamamoto to challenge the establishment and status quo.

In the Upper House, electric power sources will be installed in the chamber and committee rooms so the lawmakers will be able to power their electric wheelchairs and medical equipment.

In addition to help with regular voting, when the lawmakers need to write names on ballots, such as when the Upper House chair is chosen, caregivers will be allowed to fill in the names on their behalf, lawmakers said.

The committee is tasked with looking for ways to make sure the lawmakers can participate fully in Diet deliberations, including through modifications to the building and new procedural rules.

“The political process in the Diet will not be determined only by healthy people anymore,” Yamamoto said.

Past accommodations by the Diet included preparing documents in Braille for lawmakers with weak eyesight. When Eita Yashiro, 82, who was elected to the Upper House in 1977, started using a wheelchair, a ramp was installed and a seat was removed to ensure he could participate in sessions. Ramps and barrier-free restrooms are now par for the course.

But Funago and Kimura have more severe disabilities.

“Both of them are Diet members elected by the people. We are going to make the best support system we can so they will be able to be fully active,” a senior Upper House official said.

Funago, whose condition is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, has had no mobility in his limbs since 2008. He communicates through a special sensor that detects his biting movements to control a computer. Funago, the vice president of a nursing business, had a representative read his speeches while campaigning.

He and Kimura, who has had cerebral palsy since she was 8 months old and also has limited physical mobility, both depend on caregivers to get around.

Their wheelchairs are larger than conventional ones, possibly necessitating modifications to committee rooms and other parts of the Diet building.

Neither has the ability to press voting buttons on their own. The Diet had never previously been faced with the prospect of allowing caregivers to step in.

“Until this point, no one had thought that people with severe physical disabilities would become politicians,” said Sae Okura, an assistant professor of politics at Mie University.

“In terms of creating policies for diverse people, both (of them) being elected is extremely meaningful in both practical and symbolic terms,” she added.

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