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Facilities turning barrier-free across Japan for inclusive 2020 Tokyo Paralympics

A wheelchair rugby player, right, practices with an able-bodied training partner, left, at Active Square Daito, in the Osaka Prefectural city of Daito, on July 21, 2018. (Mainichi)

With Aug. 25 marking exactly two years until the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games, facilities across Japan are being renovated or newly built to meet universal design standards.

Tokyo Shogaisha Sogo Sports Center, which opened in Kita Ward in 1986 and played a pioneering role among sports facilities for people with disabilities, underwent a drastic renewal this summer. The aging facility adjusted to meet international standards in July, including the renovation of an annex where the distance of the archery grounds was expanded from 50 to 70 meters.

"The legacy of the Tokyo Paralympic Games is to develop an atmosphere conducive to everyone being able to play sports casually," said Hirohisa Takayama, head of sports support division at the facility.

Renovations and construction of other facilities, such as gymnasiums, are increasing as the clock ticks down to the Tokyo Games. The Nippon Foundation Para Arena, dedicated to parasports like wheelchair rugby, also opened in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward this June.

At the same time, however, some are calling for "symbiotic environments," where people with and without disabilities can enjoy sports together. Although facilities built solely for parasports are user-friendly, interactions between able-bodied users and those with physical impairments are less likely.

Yoshiteru Hoshi, who participated in four Paralympic Games, including wheelchair basketball, said, "The ideal is to integrate into society and play sports together."

Active Square Daito, which opened in Daito, Osaka Prefecture, in western Japan last January, has contributed to making Hoshi's dream a step closer to reality. It is fully equipped with barrier-free toilets and slopes, making use of a defunct elementary school. The facility welcomes wheelchair rugby players, who are usually turned away from gymnasiums because their wheelchairs tend to damage floors, and Heat, the only wheelchair rugby team in the Kansai region in western Japan, practices there twice a month. But it does not end there.

The newly expanded archery grounds at Tokyo Shogaisha Sogo Sports Center in Tokyo's Kita Ward is pictured here on July 1, 2018. (Mainichi)

Able-bodied children watching wheelchair rugby matches have become a common sight at the facility. "People with or without disabilities can both use the facility, and that is leading to enhanced performance," said Yu Nagayasu, 32, who contributed to Japan's first victory in the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in early August. "This place, where there are no lines separating us, where all of us are on equal footing as users of this facility, must take root in this community."

The "Tokyo 2020 Accessibility Guidelines" policy for the design of barrier-free venues, formulated by the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, is also being applied to facilities without any relation to sports. Barrier-free design standards are spreading from parasports facilities and into everyday life.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government announced its intention to apply the guidelines to facilities in the capital, which are accessed by the general public, in June 2016. The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in Koto Ward, which is currently undergoing renovations, has altered the width of its elevator entrance to 90 centimeters and passageway for wheelchairs at the front entrance to 1.2 meters. An industry exchange venue in the suburban Tokyo city of Hachioji, scheduled for completion during the 2021 fiscal year, is also designed according to the guidelines.

"(The guidelines) act as an international standard for a barrier-free environment, reflecting the policies of the International Paralympic Committee," said Secretary-General Satoshi Sato of the nonprofit organization Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples' International. "I hope all of society can become barrier-free, starting from the application of the guidelines in Tokyo, and then spreading across Japan."

(Japanese original by Takumi Taniguchi and Taro Iiyama, Sports News Department)

The following are examples of the Tokyo 2020 Accessibility Guidelines:

- Elevator entrances should be at least 90 centimeters in width, and the interior of the elevator should be about 2.1 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep with a passenger capacity of 24.

- Indoor passages with large numbers of pedestrians should have a width of at least 2 meters.

- The standard proportions for wheelchair-accessible seating are 0.75 percent at venues for the Olympic Games and 1 to 1.2 percent at venues for the Paralympic Games.

- Doors should be at least 95 centimeters in width, and the main entrance to a building should have a width of at least 2 meters.

- Slopes are recommended to be at least 1.5 meters in width, with two hand railings installed alongside them -- one 60 to 65 centimeters from the ground and the other 75 to 85 centimeters from the ground.

- Gradients of slopes at main entrances and exits of facilities should generally be 5 percent or less.

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