“Report from Japan” by WFD Board Member Eiichi Takada

compiled for the Expert Group Meeting and Seminar on an International Convention to Protect and Promote the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities Bangkok, Thailand 2-4 June 2003

1. Introduction

The International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 and the subsequent “United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, 1983~1992” aroused the Japanese government, as well as persons with disabilities (PWDs) and their organizations to strive toward the achievement of “Full Participation and Equality”. This movement was further carried on into the “Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993~2002”, and by the end of this decade in 2002, Japan had made tremendous advances. Japan can be seen as a case in which the initiative of the United Nations and other international organizations effectively and positively influenced the country’s domestic development.

However, Japan started out with such meager infrastructures to protect the rights of PWDs that, in spite of movements by PWDs and their organizations, and efforts by the government to respond to these movements, it is still left with many problems and issues to be solved. These are challenges to be carried over into the “Second Asian and Pacific Decade, 2003~2012”.

2. Noteworthy Undertakings

Japanese legislation pertaining to PWDs had the following shortcomings and defects:

  1. The “Fundamental Law for Disabled Persons”, enacted in order to protect the rights of PWDs, expresses the principle that PWDs have equal rights as other persons. However, because it lacks binding legal force or penal regulations, it has had little practical effect.
  2. Many Japanese laws themselves had outdated discriminative clauses, limiting the qualification, movement, access, and participation of PWDs.
  3. In order to really achieve “Full Participation and Equality”, we need a law which contains basic, active, and specific anti-discriminatory regulations pertaining to all phases of life so that, for example, Seeing Eye dogs can accompany blind persons wherever needed, so that the Deaf will be guaranteed sign language interpretation, so that built environments will be made more accessible, etc. In other words, what is need in Japan is a “Law Forbidding Discrimination Toward PWDs” (or Anti-discrimination Law).

Therefore, the revision of existing discriminative laws and the enactment of an Anti-Discrimination Law have become strategic targets of our movement toward “Full Participation and Equality”

In response to the “Asian and Pacific Decade”, the Japanese government included the “revision of laws and provisions which hinder the social participation of PWDs” as a major political issue in its “New Long-term Programme for Government Measures for Persons With Disabilities”. According to government reports, there were a total of 79 laws and provisions, limiting the qualification, movement, access, or participation of PWDs, and involving all the ministries of the government. Among these were the Medical Practitioners Law, Dentists Law, Artificial Limb Fitters Law, Dental Technicians Law, Barbers Law, Nutritionists Law, Pharmacists Law, Road Traffic Law, etc.

3. Examples of Revised Laws

In Japan, the Inquest of Prosecution Law requires an inquest into the legitimacy of each prosecution. This Law also had a discriminative clause disqualifying PWDs from becoming an examiner. This Law was included among those requiring revision, and now, Deaf or blind persons are eligible to become examiners with the support of Braille materials and sign language interpretation. This revision exemplified the fact that it was not the disability which was the disqualifying factor, but that the defect was to be found in the laws themselves which did not provide measures to support the disability.

The Pharmacists Law stated that those with visual or hearing impairments are disqualified to receive the pharmacist’s license. This disqualifying clause was removed, and recently, a Deaf person has already been certified as a pharmacist.

Likewise the Medical Practitioners Law does not permit persons with visual or hearing impairments to take the National Examination for Medical Practitioners nor to receive a license. This law has also been revised. Recently, media reports that a blind person passed the National Examination. Such revisions will greatly expand professional possibilities for persons with visual or hearing impairments. Such achievements prove that professional restrictions are not necessitated by the disabilities themselves, but are the result of the laws which create the restrictions.

By the end of the “Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons” in 2002, the discriminative clauses found in all 79 laws were revised or abolished.

4. The major “discriminative law” for the Deaf is the “Copyright Law”

The most popular form of media today is probably the television. Television offers visual and audio information and entertainment. To make the audio information accessible for the Deaf, we need captioning or sign language interpretation. In the United States, the ADA and related regulations require that TV programs be captioned or sign language interpreted. However, we do not have such laws or acts in Japan, and consequently, very few programs are accessible for the Deaf. Moreover, if TV programs are captioned or sign language interpreted, high royalties need to be paid to the author or copyright holder. Therefore, the Copyright Law was listed among the discriminative laws requiring revision so as to enable captioning and sign language interpretation without the consent of the copyright holder.

Since the revision of the law, communication satellite (CS) broadcasting programs can offer real-time captioning freely. The two nation-wide organizations of persons with hearing impairments, the Japanese Federation of the Deaf and the All Japan Association of Hard of Hearing People, collaborated with a satellite communication company and video software company to establish their own CS broadcasting station called the “Japan Organization of CS Broadcasting for People with Disabilities”. With the revision of the Copyright Law and the establishment of this new organization, the Deaf are now able to produce and broadcast their own signed and captioned programs. Further endeavors are conducted to increase the rate of diffusion of the special receiver unit and to increase the number of programs broadcasted each day. The Deaf are no longer passive viewers of television media, but are active providers of programs, handling the producing and broadcasting of programs with their own hands. It is in such a change that we witness the achievement of “full participation and equality”.

5. From Barrier-Free to Universal Design

So far, this report has been giving examples of revisions in existing laws.

Besides these revisions, what is still lacking in Japan is a “Law Forbidding Discrimination Toward PWDs” and related laws which give basic, active, and specific anti-discriminatory regulations. As the first step toward this aim, the “Act on Making Buildings Accessible and Usable for the Elderly and Physically Disabled” (the so-called Heart Bill) and the “Law for Promoting Easily Accessible Public Transportation Infrastructure for the Aged and the Disabled (the Transportation Accessibility Improvement Law)” were newly formulated.

The former established standards to make the built environment more accessible for PWDs. Standards were fixed for the installation of elevators, the width of hallways, the provision of Braille indications and signs, etc. The latter requires that newly constructed stations and transportation vehicles should be designed so as to enable barrier-free access for PWDs. Such designs will make the environment more accessible not only for PWDs, but also for the elderly, pregnant women, mothers with babies, and will facilitate their movements. Such cases exemplify how barrier-free designing for PWDs will lead to universal designs.

6. Propelling Force

Needless to say, it was the “Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons” which triggered off developments in the Japanese legal system pertaining to PWDs. It is also important to remember that it was the movements conducted by PWDs themselves, based on a firm belief in the objectives of the “Asian and Pacific Decade”, which became the propelling force behind the advances.

For example, of Japan’s 47 prefectural administrations, 45 adopted the resolution to “Revise Laws and Acts which hinder the social participation of PWDs”. This feat was made possible because different organizations of PWDs stood up for their rights and moved the local assemblies to pass the resolution. As one such organization, the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, coordinated the 8 organizations related to persons with hearing impairments, and set up a “Headquarters for the Revision of Discriminative Laws”. As one united force, campaigns were held to collect donations and signatures from those who supported the cause and agreed to the resolution. As a result, we succeeded in collecting a total of \70 million (or $600,000) and signatures of 2,230,000 persons. Similar movements were conducted by other organizations of disabled persons and their related organizations. The self-help organizations of PWDs became the propelling force to create an even bigger movement involving public opinion and the support of the country’s citizens at large. And it was this big movement that led to the formulation of the new laws.

7. Problems Which Still Need to be Solved

Sometimes, even if the law is revised, actual practices and systems are not changed. For example, in Japan, the clause in the Road Traffic Law disqualifying persons with visual and hearing disabilities from receiving a drivers’ license was removed. However, the examination to receive the drivers’ license still requires a hearing test. Unless a person can hear a 90 phon sound from a distance 10 meters away, he is disqualified. Actually, there are no scientific data showing that persons with hearing disabilities are not qualified to drive. A survey consigned by the National Police Agency shows that only 0.03% of drivers who require hearing aids cause accidents, which is surprisingly low in comparison to the rate of accidents of regular hearing drivers amounting to 0.2%. In spite of such figures, the survey concludes that hearing impaired drivers are dangerous, and necessitates a strict examination and the use of hearing aids. Another example is the Law for the Welfare of Physically Disabled Persons, which guarantees sign language interpretation but contains no specific regulations on how this is to be enacted. As one unfortunate result, we know of a Deaf person who signed a contract to stand security for a bank loan without a sign language interpreter, and consequently not understanding what he was doing. When the debtor went bankrupt, all his property was seized. This Deaf person took the case to court to plea that it was illegal to make him a guarantor without sign language interpretation. He lost the case in the first trial and is now submitting the case to the court of appeal.

This is only one of numerous cases where discrimination is still evident in Japanese society today. Therefore, the enactment of an “Anti-Discrimination Law” is a strategic aim for future disability movements. In Japan, we need to uphold the disability movement into the future.

8. Japan’s International Responsibility

If we compare the achievement of “Full Participation and Equality” for PWDs in Japan and in the Scandinavian countries, Japan still has many areas to catch up and improve on including non-discrimination measures, income generation, living standards, protection of rights, building a barrier-free environment, etc. However, compared to the developing countries of Asia, we enjoy a much more developed situation in all these areas.

From a macro and economic perspective, Japan’s prosperity has been achieved at the cost of the developing countries of Asia. The same can be said of other industrialized countries. Whenever we, as Japanese PWDs, send aid to PWDs in other Asian countries, we are always made to realize keenly that poverty that exits throughout Asia. Although movements by organizations of PWDs are essential for the realization of “Full Participation and Equality”, this extreme poverty can be a hindrance to the advancement of our movements. For this reason, I feel strongly that the development of disabled persons in Asia must always go hand in hand with policies for the alleviation of poverty.

At present, Japan’s economy is stagnant and no longer has the power it once had. The national finance is shrinking, and is negatively affecting the lives of PWDs. PWDs are faced with new problems, and the advance of a barrier-free environment is slowing down. Even if the country has productive power, with consumption stagnant or falling both in domestic and international markets, economy will remain flat. This situation is largely influenced by the poverty that exists in the developing countries.

For such reasons, sending economic assistance to the developing countries of Asia is not only Japan’s responsibility, but is also an effective way to bring new prosperity to the Asian and Pacific Region as well as the entire world. Moreover, it is important that the assistance to the developing countries should not only be concentrated on large-scale development projects and industrial development which often lead to environmental disruption and agglomeration of wealth, but should be used for the alleviation of poverty, public welfare, and especially in the case of PWDs, for the improvement and development of non-discrimination measures, income generation, living standards, protection of rights, building a barrier-free environment, etc.

When Scandinavian countries give aid to PWDs in developing countries, they send it from the organizations of disabled persons in Scandinavia to their counterpart organizations in the developing countries. This system is said to be very effective. In the same way, during the “Second Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 2003~2012”, the self-help organizations of disabled persons in Japan should work with their counterpart organizations in the developing countries. For example, the organization of blind persons should work with the organizations of blind persons in developing countries, the organization of the Deaf should work with the organizations of the Deaf in developing countries, etc. These self-help organizations in Japan should receive financial aid from the government and send economic assistance on a large and effective scale to the counterpart organizations. Though such international cooperation activities, both the donor and recipient organizations will have much to learn and gain. This is how the principle of “Full Participation and Equality” should really function.

9. Aim to Realize the “International Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities”

We have fixed the term from 2003 to 2012 as the “Second Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons” and have adopted the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action which includes the major targets of the new Decade. Among these targets, the big issue is the enactment of a United Nations International Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons.

To achieve this aim, it is important for organizations of disabled persons to unite forces with the International Disability Alliance (IDA) to conduct movements on an international scale. However, international movements require experience and talent, time, and an abundant budget, so participation is not going to be easy. However, direct participation in international movements is not the only effective measure for realizing the convention. The United Nations is an assembly of state governments. Ultimately, the result will depend on how these state governments use their voting rights. In that sense, domestic movements within each country will be effective for influencing the country’s decision on the convention.

The enactment of an Anti-Discrimination Law within the country is a clear way to confirm the government’s commitment to the protection of rights of PWDs and to the realization of the “Convention”. Therefore, it is just as important to advocate for an “Anti-Discrimination Law” as for a Convention.

The Japanese government is quite influential in the international sphere. Therefore, it is important that organizations of PWDs lobby with the government to influence its policies and decision-making. Disability organizations in Japan have been conducting such activities since the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons, and have gained much experience and know-how since then. This experience in advocacy movements should now be used to combine the different organizations of persons with different disabilities into a comprehensive movement. This comprehensive movement would not in any way conflict with the movements conducted by each individual organization, but rather, would help to strengthen these movements.

In the Asia Pacific Region, we plan to develop the former RNN (Regional NGO Network to Promote the Asian and Pacific Decade) into a network more similar to the International Disability Alliance (IDA) and will call this the APDF (Asia Pacific Disability Forum). We have plans to form a comprehensive network within our country which is adapted to the APDF. This network will conduct movements to influence the government to take an active and positive stance toward the “Convention on the Rights of PWDs”. To do this effectively, the network members must respect each other’s organizations, and be willing to work together comprehensively.

During the “Second Asian and Pacific Decade”, PWDs in Japan will not only participate directly in international disability movements, but will develop domestic disability movements to realize the “Anti-Discrimination Law”. Such movements within the country will support the realization of the goals of the Biwako Millennium Framework and the establishment of a “Comprehensive and Integral International Convention to Promote and Protect the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities”.

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