Blind chief of Tokyo's Miraikan science museum aims to make it 'global role model'
TOKYO -- The new chief of a science museum in Tokyo who is completely blind is seeking to make it "a global role model" as an accessible museum, she said at an Aug. 25 news conference, her first in her new post.
IBM Fellow Chieko Asakawa, 62, the new chief executive director of the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, or Miraikan, in the capital's Koto Ward, also revealed plans to introduce suitcase-shaped robots that guide people with visual impairments. She is currently developing the robots.
Asakawa succeeded first Miraikan head and astronaut Mamoru Mohri, 73, in April. But her return to Japan from the United States, where her research is based, was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Upholding the phrase "a platform for people to create a better future together" as the museum's vision heading toward 2030, Asakawa said, "I want to enable each person to imagine a new life realized through technology, and act toward social implementation, instead of just learning technologies created by someone else. I hope the museum will be a place for visitors to discuss things while taking in the exhibits."
Asakawa lost her sight at age 14, after a swimming pool accident when she was 11. She joined IBM Japan Ltd. in 1985, and in 1997 developed the "Home Page Reader" computer program that reads out web pages for visually impaired people. She was inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2019.
Asakawa was good at sports, and she was apparently into track, skiing and swimming even after losing her sight. She said of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, which began on Aug. 24, "As the Games approached, athletes' stories and explanations about their sports have been covered by the media more frequently. Perhaps that will prompt the public to think of disabilities as part of 'ordinary life.' I expect the Games will be a giant step in making the world a place where people understand that diversity is never far away."
Miraikan opened in 2001 under the Basic Plan for Science and Technology, and is operated by the Japan Science and Technology Agency, part of the National Research and Development Agencies.
(Japanese original by Tomohiro Ikeda, Science & Environment News Department)