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NPA to deny request, keep manual entry banning electric wheelchair operation after drinking

A man in a wheelchair recalls how sad and angry he felt when he was handed a paper urging wheelchair users to refrain from tasting wine at a department store in Tokyo. Shown in the foreground is a copy of the paper in question. (Mainichi/Yuka Narita)

TOKYO -- The National Police Agency (NPA) is poised to decline a request from a group supporting people with disabilities to delete statements in a police safety manual saying people should not operate electric wheelchairs after drinking.

The nonprofit Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples' International (DPI-Japan), consisting of 96 organizations for the disabled, submitted the written request. It cited numerous cases where alcohol products have been withheld from wheelchair users, and called the practice discriminatory.

"Prohibiting only motorized wheelchair users from drinking constitutes unfair discriminatory treatment under the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities," Tokyo-based DPI-Japan argued in its request. Wheelchair users are regarded as pedestrians under the Road Traffic Act.

The manual in question was compiled in fiscal 2002 based on expert opinion and cases of powered wheelchair-related accidents. There had been an increase in casualties as electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters used by elderly people became popular. For this reason, the NPA in its manual said people should never use the vehicles after drinking.

According to the NPA, 155 to 215 cases of accidents occurred yearly between motorized wheelchairs and cars from 2012 to 2017, while 62 to 101 cases occurred between manually operated wheelchairs and cars. Among these, power chair users were found drunk in a maximum of five cases per year, while manual wheelchair users were found drunk in up to three cases.

The NPA says it has data on fatal incidents in which electric wheelchair users fell into rivers and rice fields, but not statistics that cover all cases of single-vehicle collisions or accidents between wheelchair users and pedestrians.

Politician Mitsunori Okamoto of the Democratic Party for the People questioned the NPA's position at a meeting of the House of Representatives' Health, Labor and Welfare Committee on Nov. 30. "The manual may act as a barrier against social involvement of people with disabilities," he argued. However, a councilor at the NPA indicated that the stipulation would be maintained, pointing out, "There is a risk of making bad judgments and operational errors with even a small amount of alcohol."

Kumamoto University professor and lawyer Toshihiro Higashi, former general manager of the office of the Committee for Disability Policy Reform at the Cabinet Office, says the NPA has not provided evidence such as comparison of accidents between drunken pedestrians and wheelchair users. "It can't be said that the NPA has a justifiable reason for their statement," he said.

(Japanese original by Yuka Narita, City News Department)

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