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Local opposition to new facilities for disabled a problem in Japan: Mainichi survey

A group home is seen in this file photo taken in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- A Mainichi Shimbun survey has revealed that in the past five years there were at least 68 cases in which protests against the construction of group homes and other facilities for disabled people caused operators to call off their plans or change their planned site in 21 prefectures in Japan.

Furthermore, prefectural and municipal governments did not respond to such movements and left the problem in the hands of operators in 32 cases. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is promoting the establishment of group homes to help individuals with disabilities live in communities, but in reality, misunderstanding and prejudice is causing friction across the nation.

As there have apparently been many protests by local residents against building facilities for the disabled in densely populated urban areas, the Mainichi sent a survey via email to all 47 prefectures as well as to 106 municipalities -- prefectural capitals, ordinance-designated cities, core cities and Tokyo's 23 wards -- in September and obtained responses from all of them.

The survey asked questions about opposition movements that took place between October 2014 and September 2019, and other related issues.

Of the 68 cases in which opposition movements had prevented the launch of such facilities in the area, 52 cases, or the majority, had to do with residential facilities including group homes; followed by 17 cases of day care facilities including those providing support for job seekers with disabilities and people with developmental disorders; and eight cases involving facilities for disabled children, such as after-school day care.

By types of disabilities, about 70% of movements were against the building of facilities for people with intellectual disabilities and mental disorders. To a multiple-choice question asking about the reasons for the objections, many chose options such as, "they regarded disabled individuals as dangerous," "deterioration of the living environment," and, "a lack of an explanation."

While 71 prefectural and municipal governments said they weren't aware of any movements against the establishment of facilities for the disabled, 46 prefectures and municipalities said they are not sure if there were any opposition movements, indicating there could have been more than the 68 cases.

Under the additional resolution of the Act for Eliminating Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, which came into effect in 2016, when approving the establishment of facilities for individuals with disabilities, the national government and local bodies are not required to obtain locals' consent but must engage in awareness raising activities to gain their understanding.

However, when asked whether administrative bodies should intervene in the matter or not if opposition movements emerge, answers by prefectural and municipal governments were split roughly in half -- between respondents saying administrations should intervene and those stating there is no need to do so.

Yasuyo Nomura, associate professor of social welfare at Osaka City University, said, "Opposition movements are one of the typical obstacles for people with disabilities to live in a community." Nomura, well acquainted with movements against the establishment of facilities for disabled individuals, added, "To promote the integration of individuals with disabilities into communities, local bodies should view opposition movements as an opportunity to change locals' perception (of disabled people) and actively intervene."

(Japanese original by Asako Kamihigashi, Lifestyle and Medical News Department, and Norikazu Chiba, Science & Environment News Department)

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