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Problems found with access to new training facility for Paralympic athletes

Paralympians Association of Japan chairman Junichi Kawai, right, and others check the textured paving blocks for the blind or visually impaired and other areas around the second National Training Center on Aug. 26, 2018, in Tokyo's Kita Ward. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The second National Training Center (NTC) mainly designed for use by Paralympic athletes is due to open in June 2019 in the capital's Kita Ward. However problems not with the facility itself, but the route to get there, have arisen.

According to a probe carried out by the Paralympians Association of Japan (PAJ) and other organizations, a number of dangerous points along the route to the new facility from nearby areas and the closest train stations have been identified.

The survey was carried out on Aug. 26 by former Paralympic athletes and other athletes that use wheelchairs or have visual impairments. Survey participants actually traveled from the center to the nearest stations, Motohasunuma and Itabashihoncho on the Toei Subway Mita Line and JR Akabane Station. They encountered a number of problems during their trip: traffic lights with no voice or acoustic guides for crossing around the training facility; a lack of textured paving blocks for the blind or visually impaired along parts of the routes to both subway stations; and directions for the bus at JR Akabane Station that were difficult to decipher.

In addition, there were also sections along roads where trees had been planted or street lamps erected over the guiding tiles for the visually impaired. Some sidewalks were too bumpy or steep for wheelchair users to navigate safely.

A computer generated image of the planned second National Training Center provided by the government's Sports Agency.

PAJ vice chair Kuniko Obinata called for improvement, saying, "Especially the issues with the traffic crossings near the second NTC facility pose a danger of injury or death for those with visual impairments."

The second NTC is under construction near the government-sponsored High Performance Center (HPC) in Kita Ward's Nishigaoka district, which is used by both Olympic and Paralympic athletes. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has been promoting training for both Olympians and Paralympians after the ministry took over the development of sports activities for people with disabilities from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in April 2014.

The HPC is comprised of the Japan Institute of Sports Sciences (JISS), which opened in 2001, the current NTC, in operation since 2008, and other relevant facilities. The JISS is where men's long distance Nordic skier Yoshihiro Nitta underwent low-oxygen training to increase his heart and lung functions before he won a gold medal in the event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Paralympics in February. His success has boosted expectations regarding the second NTC, especially for Paralympic athletes.

"The concept for the second NTC was to prioritize Paralympic athletes," pointed out PAJ chairman Junichi Kawai. "The use of the area around the facilities is expected to increase." The association plans to work with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and the related municipal governments to secure the safety of those who wish to use the new center.

"The inside of the building has a universal design for Paralympic athletes, but getting there is the issue," said Kawai. "We would like to thoroughly identify the problems and convey them properly so that everyone can use the facilities with ease."

(Japanese original by Hideaki Takahashi, Sports News Department)

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