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Are Japanese taxis really becoming wheelchair friendly? The experience of one model suggests that no

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Kazaho Moriyama is seen in this courtesy image.

TOKYO – A Tokyo resident who uses a wheelchair was trying to use a taxi the day before the opening ceremony for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games when the driver suddenly yelled at her in a way that made her feel like that he had been told to come out.

“I’m too scared to take a taxi now. But that’s the reality for people with disabilities,” said Kazaho Moriyama, 40, a resident of Tokyo suburb of Fuchu, who has developed dystrophy. progressive muscle when she was in her second year. of college. She uses an electric wheelchair in her daily life.

The incident happened on August 23 as Moriyama was on his way to his city’s government office as part of his request for social assistance for people with disabilities. She decided to use a universally designed taxi that she could board in her wheelchair and applied to a taxi company to have the car come to her. But the driver who arrived did not seem to know how to get a wheelchair user up.

The universally designed taxis are approved by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. To make them more accessible to people with disabilities and older people, vehicles should have at least one entry point accessible by a wheelchair user who stays in their chair.

But despite the nationwide introduction of more than 20,000 universally designed taxis and the government’s goal of promoting an inclusive society in the run-up to the Paralympic Games, it seems that Japan is still not in a place. where wheelchair users can feel comfortable using the services.

Promoting the introduction of universally designed taxis was among the measures included in the government’s 2020 universal design action plan, announced in 2017. They have seen particularly high adoption in the capital due to provisions allowing individuals to receive financial support from the national government. and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government when purchasing vehicles while meeting certain conditions.



A taxi with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games logo is seen in downtown Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, in this unrelated file image taken on July 23, 2021. (Mainichi / Yohei Koide)

A survey conducted in March by the Japan Federation of Taxi Rental Associations indicated that there were 23,959 vehicles, more than half of which – 13,080 – in the capital. Many cars were adorned with Olympic and Paralympic emblems. The investigation also revealed that JPN TAXI, manufactured and sold by Toyota Motor Corp. since 2017, has a market share of over 90%.

The car deployed at Moriyama’s home was a JPN TAXI. To allow a wheelchair user to board the vehicle, the driver sets a ramp leading to the rear seat on the left side, and after creating space by sliding the driver’s seat, the wheelchair can be brought into the vehicle. Other measures, in particular securing the passenger with a belt, are also necessary.

But the driver who came to pick up Moriyama only set up the ramp. They did not move the driver’s seat and watched her silently without pushing her chair into the vehicle.

Moriyama did what she could and managed to get into the vehicle, but to hook his wheelchair to the driver’s seat, the driver grabbed and shook his wheelchair without a word. Moriyama, who lost her balance from the sudden shaking, felt she was being treated like an object. Without thinking, she whispered, “Not like that.” Suddenly the driver’s complexion changed, she said, and they shouted, “I’m doing my best! Will you give up?”

Somehow they fastened the seatbelt and left. The preparations had taken 15 minutes or more. Although they reached the city government office, Moriyama hyperventilated with fear.

The Road Traffic Act requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts, but wheelchair users are not subject to these requirements. But with the exception of large wheelchairs, reclining wheelchairs and other equipment, wheelchairs that can be fitted in JPN TAXI vehicles must, as a rule, be fastened with a seat belt.

Moriyama said, “It seemed like the driver thought all he had to do was prepare the ramp. I want the taxi companies to operate universally designed taxis after ensuring that the drivers can fully assist the people on board. Even if they drive with the Paralympic emblem on them, ideals alone won’t make things a reality. ”

After developing progressive muscular dystrophy, Moriyama modeled for photographer Nobuyoshi Araki’s collection “6×7 hangeki”, roughly translating to “6×7 counterattack”, published by Arton Co. in 2007. In 2008, she announced her autobiography “Kazaho”, published by Kodansha Ltd. Although she led a determined lifestyle, the spread of coronavirus infections brought a sudden change to her lifestyle. Previously, she traveled in her own car, but she gave up on that and recently traveled by taxi.



A man who uses a wheelchair is seen being helped in a universal design taxi in the Edogawa district of Tokyo on October 30, 2019 (Mainichi / Buntaro Saito)

Addressing the Mainichi Shimbun, Moriyama said, “There was no apology from the driver this time, and the taxi company also did not fully respond to the problem. I decided that for for the sake of other disabled people, I couldn’t bear to lie down and needed my voice to be heard. ”

Satoshi Sato, 54, secretary general of the Japanese National Assembly of Disability International, said that from around 2017 there were many cases in which wheelchair users were turned away. taxis. As of October 2019, the organization had 120 people across the country trying to flag and board universally designed taxis. More than a quarter – 32 people – couldn’t.

Among the ways they were rejected, some said they were in wheelchairs and raised their hands towards a passing taxi that had not stopped for them, while others said that even though the vehicles pulled over When they were stopped, the drivers told them that they did not know how to let the passengers on board, or that they could not get on while they were still in their wheelchairs. Since the introduction of universally designed taxis, there have been repeated cases of taxi companies facing administrative penalties or guidelines after refusing to accept wheelchair users in their vehicles.

Why is it so difficult for wheelchair users to take a taxi? Sato pointed out, “Getting a wheelchair into vehicles requires a lengthy process, and there are issues for drivers who forget how to get people on when the time comes. Even with training, if they don’t frequently let people in wheelchairs, they forget how to do it. ”

In the case of the company that sent the car and the driver involved in the incident with Moriyama, the company admitted that the driver did not have sufficient experience in operating a universally designed taxi. He said: “We intend in the future to hold a study session and improve our skills. Universal design taxis involve many steps, and it is difficult to quickly remember them. ”

But what is the state of the training? To qualify for financial assistance when purchasing a universally designed taxi, the rules require that drivers trained at a special institution be sent and receive training in the office twice a year or more, between other stipulations.

However, the National Welfare Transportation Service Association says extensive training is difficult to achieve. An association official said: “Office training ultimately comes down to a self-assessment system. Even if training is received, for many drivers the reality is that there will be few opportunities. for wheelchair passengers to board vehicles. ”

Sato, who uses a wheelchair himself, said: “In companies that make good use of universally designed taxis, a number of drivers get together as a team and together they teach each other the process at regular intervals for a while. Training. If companies really feel they want to make it easier for people with disabilities to use the services, then I think they can, based on their own ingenuity, make it better. ”

The government’s 2020 Universal Design Action Plan states that there must be attempts to engage in “diversity of heart” and stresses that “we must cultivate the ability to imagine and understand problems, the hardships and pain of all people. Now that the Paralympic Games are over, has this diversity of heart really been realized?

(Japanese original by Maki Nakajima, Digital News Center)


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