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Major suds makers take varied approach to beer tasting by electric wheelchair users

TOKYO -- Japan's four major beer makers are split on whether people visiting their factories in electric wheelchairs are permitted to taste their brews.

Two of Japan's four brewing giants have banned users of the electric motor-driven chairs from tasting brews, or established conditions for such visitors to taste their products based on national police guidelines, but organizations advocating for people with disabilities argue this is discriminatory.

In fiscal 2002, the National Police Agency (NPA) drew up "a manual on the safe usage of electric wheelchairs" that urged users "to absolutely not use electric wheelchairs after drinking and other activities." The manual is available on the NPA website.

Disabled rights advocacy groups point out that electric wheelchairs are treated the same as pedestrians under the Road Traffic Act, and pedestrians are not prohibited from drinking alcohol. Therefore, they say, banning chair users from tasting at beer factories constitutes discrimination under the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities. They want the ban removed from the NPA guidelines.

Beer giant Suntory Holdings Ltd. permits unconditional tasting for adult factory visitors. A company public relations representative says this comes from the view that a wheelchair is a part of the user's body. Thus, those using either manually or electrically operated wheelchairs are permitted to taste brews inside Suntory factories. However, the same representatives said they were not aware of the NPA guidelines, and would take them into consideration in the future.

Meanwhile, Asahi Breweries Ltd. has established conditions out of safety concerns independently of the NPA guidelines. All wheelchair users are asked to come with at least one non-wheelchair user to accompany them in case of disasters and other emergencies, and are permitted to taste beer whether or not their wheelchairs are manually or electrically operated.

Kirin Co. received explanations about the NPA manual from the local police stations of the municipalities where their factories are located. Kirin created its own internal manual 15 years ago, which permits manual wheelchair users to taste beers, citing the ease of maneuvering the chairs. However, electric wheelchair users are only allowed to taste beers if they are accompanied by someone not using a wheelchair.

Sapporo Breweries Ltd. follows the NPA manual and prohibits drinking alcohol by electric wheelchair users. The manufacturer permits people using manually operated wheelchairs to taste beers. However, the company says that it may ask those in manual wheelchairs to refrain from drinking alcohol depending on their health and other conditions.

(Japanese original by Yuka Narita, City News Department)

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