By María Roldán
Tokyo, Jul 21 (EFE).- The Tokyo Olympics changed the lives of people with disabilities in the Japanese capital, who until a few years ago struggled due to the lack of disability-inclusive infrastructure, especially on the city’s public transport network.
But the massive construction work undertaken for the Tokyo 2020 Games has transformed the city’s infrastructure, which today is much more friendly for people like Satoshi Sato, secretary general of the Japanese branch of the NGO Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI).
“Japan’s public infrastructure has changed a lot after the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the most notable is the access to trains for people with disabilities,” Sato, who has been in a wheelchair since the age of 9, tells Efe.
Despite being one of the busiest in the world, before the 2020 Games, Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station only had one access for people with reduced mobility.
Today, there are at least six elevator exits, some of which can accommodate up to 24 people, and a corridor that runs through the entire station.
By the end of 2020, 95% of stations that see at least 3,000 people travel through them each day had elevators and stairlifts installed, according to Japan’s ministry of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, and high-speed trains have also been modified with more seats available for wheelchair users.
“Before it was impossible to travel in groups because there were only one or two seats for us, (…) now we can sit together and talk,” Sato says.
Another visible transformation has been the installation of gates on train platforms, which visually impaired people had long been calling for due to repeated incidents and fatalities of people falling onto the tracks.
“The initial goal was to install gates in 800 stations, and that objective has been met,” says Sato, who expects the safety devices to be installed on up to 3,000 platforms.
While improvements and regulations have been imposed on public transport, the hospitality, retail and the real estate sectors still have a lot of work to do.
“The number of accessible housing units compared to 20 years ago has barely increased,” Sato says.
He adds that while infrastructure has improved, the perception of Japanese society towards people with disabilities has not changed much.
“The most important thing is to educate people from an early age and promote the integration of students with disabilities in the classroom,” he says. EFE