With Tokyo winning the rights to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, the hosting of the 2020 Paralympics also comes with it. A former Japanese wheelchair athlete hopes that before then, Japan’s attitudes towards the disabled will vastly improve, and he’s doing his part to help some people get there.
51-year-old Masaaki Chiba, a former track-and-fielder and wheelchair race competitor, said that he has visited other cities who staged the Paralympics, like Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. He noticed that people were more naturally accommodating to people who had disabilities, rather than the attitudes towards the same people in Japan. There is already an existing law since 1994 that highly encourages building wheelchair slopes and restrooms for the disabled in public facilities. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has pledged to raise to 100% the number of low-floor buses (now at 80%) and the installation of elevators and restrooms for the disabled in train stations (currently at 90%). But Chiba said it is not just a matter of infrastructure, but a shift in the way of thinking is needed to truly say that Japan is a country that respects and values their disabled citizens.
In 2001, after retiring as a competitive athlete, Chiba founded “Variety Club Japan”, a non-profit group that helps children with disabilities be independent. One of their activities was a two-day trip in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture last August where disabled and non-disabled young people got to spend time together. He said the attitudes towards the disabled is “behind the times” because the two groups do not understand each other and oftentimes, communication is the problem. So in preparation for the 2020 Paralympics, Chiba believes the young should be made aware of how to properly treat the disabled.
Kazuo Kondo, chairman of the Japan GoalBall Association, said that improvements have not been made towards developing sports for the disabled, particularly for his sport. This is despite the fact that Japan won the gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics. There are only few facilities where the visually impaired can practice this sport. Even their finances for overseas matches have to be taken care of by the athletes themselves. Kondi is hoping that more people will be able to find the interest to watch goalball and he also believes that watching Paralympic sports can lead towards a better understanding of disabled. The London Paralympics sold a record number two million tickets for the different events, which was almost the same for the Summer Olympics.
[ via Mainichi ]
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