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The mother of a man with an intellectual disability has launched a crowdfunding campaign to build an evacuation center where people with disabilities can feel safe. She started her efforts following a powerful earthquake that hit Hokkaido in September last year.

Akiko Aoki, 51, a resident of Abira, which was hit hard by the magnitude 6.7 quake, aims to raise ¥1 million through the online initiative, which will last until Sept. 30. Following the quake, she felt she could not take her son to an ordinary shelter for fear he might panic.

Her 22-year-old son, Koji, who has autism, struggles with adapting to different environments and sometimes yells out during a fit of panic.

When the water and electricity supplies were shut off in her home following the quake, Aoki thought people at a local shelter might not be accepting of her son. So she instead relied on relatives in Sapporo, some 60 kilometers away from town.

“There must be others with similar experiences,” she thought, and soon came up with the idea of establishing a facility that could serve as both a regular gathering space for disabled people and also a shelter during times of disaster.

In 2017, Aoki founded Toasa-Mura (Toasa Village) in Abira, where visitors can experience farming and pet animals, in the hope of creating an environment where Koji could be himself. It has allowed her the opportunity to communicate with visitors from all around the country.

Aoki plans to build the new facility near the farm. “We can safely evacuate to a place where we spend time routinely,” she said.

The center will be built by renovating a vacant house near the farm and installing ramps and handrails to make it barrier-free, according to Aoki.

At the house, visitors can engage in work such as packaging vegetables and herbs harvested on the farm. It will be equipped with backup generators and sleeping bags to be used in an emergency, she said.

Hoping that the location will be a welcoming space for everyone in the neighborhood, Aoki plans to name the facility Minna no Ie (Everyone’s Home).

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