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Tokyo gov't barrier free bylaws under fire for not accommodating all wheelchair types

Toshiko Noguchi of the Tokyo Council on Independent Living Centers tests out a replica of a hotel room made to the standards of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's draft revisions to the barrier free bylaws, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Jan. 5, 2019. (Mainichi/Yuka Narita)

TOKYO -- Groups for those with disabilities are calling for changes to the revised barrier-free draft bylaws put forward by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government ahead of the 2020 Games, citing decisions made strictly on paper without carrying out actual testing.

One of the stand-out issues concerns the draft specifications for hotel rooms because the draft specs would not allow for certain types of wheelchairs to enter hotel rooms or bathrooms. While groups welcome the metro government's promotion of barrier free policies, they are calling on the bylaws to consider measurements that would allow everyone to use facilities.

The draft is a revision of Tokyo's barrier free building bylaws. Due to not only the 2020 Games, but also Japan's aging society, it is expected that the number of wheelchair users will grow. Thus, all newly built hotels or renovated hotel floors with 1,000 square meters or more are required to have no uneven flooring, have the door be more than 80 centimeters in width, have passageways, toilet and bathroom be over 70 centimeters in width in every room.

There are no fines attached to not following these regulations, but if a hotel does not match the specifications, then the construction work for new hotels or renovations to sections of old ones will not be allowed.

The draft bylaws were made public last October, and opinions were collected. The revisions are planned to be introduced to the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in February, and to be put into effect this September.

With the public release of the specifications, the Tokyo Council on Independent Living Centers (TIL), an organization supporting those with severe disabilities based in the suburban Tokyo city of Tachikawa, teamed up with Toyo University Faculty of Human Life Design professor Gihei Takahashi and others. They created a space mimicking a hotel room using cardboard based on the measurements in the bylaws for testing, and found that while wheelchairs operated by hand can fit into the bathroom and toilet if turned at an angle from the pathways, simple electric and electric wheelchairs run into the walls of the room and cannot enter these spaces.

In the revised barrier free guidelines released by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism in 2017, it was stipulated that general hotel rooms have a doorway to the toilet and bathroom measure at least 80 centimeters in width in principle, and have passageways in the space at least 100 centimeters in width.

According to Kazuhiko Motoki, a section chief in charge of the revisions at the Tokyo Office of the Governor for Policy Planning, the standards for the capital's bylaws were based on the Japan Industrial Standard (JIS) for wheelchairs, which is 70 centimeters wide or less. If this figure was used, he continued, then many business hotels that use a unit bath composed of a sink, toilet and bathtub could continue using those facilities without changes to the size of the space, and the hotel industry would have an easier time introducing the measures. "We understand that the wider a space is, the easier it is (for wheelchair users) to use, but it was decided via intense negotiations," he explained.

In response, TIL executive director Toshihiko Noguchi, 67, who uses a motorized wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, is calling for the draft to be changed to allow for pathways to be at least 100 centimeters and the doorways to toilets and bathrooms to be raised to 75 centimeters or wider.

"I am in agreement with the general message of the bylaw revisions," he said, "but there is a possibility that these standards under which many wheelchair users cannot use facilities will spread across the country."

(Japanese original by Yuka Narita and Akiyo Ichikawa, City News Department)

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