The process of acquiring and using disability certificates has long been cumbersome and impractical, but with plastic cards and smartphone apps gaining ground, things could get much simpler.
The government has started allowing plastic cards to replace the paper certificates, which tear easily and can be difficult to pull out when needed.
Though the welfare ministry has allowed people with intellectual disabilities to use plastic certificates for some time, in April it started giving municipalities the discretion to issue the more robust documents to those with mental and physical disabilities.
The Yamaguchi Prefectural Government began to issue plastic cards to people with intellectual impairments in fiscal 2015.
Unlike paper certificates, which can be appended to reflect changes in address or disability, cards must be reissued whenever a revision is made. Still, about 40 percent of those who qualify choose the card option, a local official said.
But as of Nov. 1, Yamaguchi was the only prefecture issuing the cards, the ministry said.
Osaka, Hyogo, Tokushima and seven other prefectures have agreed to start joint studies on using certificates in card form. But an official in Osaka said the switch could be costly.
“We need support from the central government as hundreds of millions of yen may be needed to revamp our computer system.”
Many governments are taking a wait-and-see approach because the central government is considering combining disability certifications with the My Number card.
While the 12-digit social security and tax identification number has been issued to all citizens and residents, only 10 percent or so have actually gone to pick the cards up.
In July, Mirairo Inc., an Osaka-based consultancy promoting barrier-free facilities, released a mobile app enabling people with disabilities to get plane and train discounts.
When users of Mirairo ID send photos of their certificates, the company digitizes them after verifying their authenticity.
“When I go out, I hang my smartphone around my neck so that I can easily use it,” said 34-year-old Toshihito Isoya of Hachioji in western Tokyo, who uses a wheelchair.
“I hardly feel conscious of the people around me because I can get a discount merely by holding my smartphone (over the reader),” he said, stressing the app’s psychological benefits.
The J. League’s Gamba Osaka has begun offering ticket discounts to Mirairo ID users at its home stadium in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.
The number of corporate supporters totaled 12 as of Nov. 1, including Gamba, Seibu Railway Co., Japan Airlines Co., All Nippon Airways Co. and Daiichikosho Co., operator of the Big Echo karaoke chain.
“I have lived through using (paper) certificates for the disabled for many years and have finally enabled digitization,” said Toshiya Kakiuchi, 30, founder and CEO of Mirairo, who uses a wheelchair.
“We will seek more corporate supporters to increase opportunities for the disabled,” he said.