The Tokyo Paralympic Games, a showcase for Japan’s progress on disability

” Good morning, how are you doing ? “ The white robot with the childish voice stares at the newcomer at Café Dawn and invites him to order. The message passed, the drinks arrive, carried by other robots. At first glance, no human is present in the staff of this café opened in June in the district of Nihonbashi, in Tokyo. And yet it is humans who are in charge.

More specifically, they are people affected by diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Charcot’s disease), who remotely “pilot” the robots. About thirty work for the Dawn café, including a high school student, “Bedridden in a special school in Fukuoka [Sud-Ouest] and whose first job is ”, explains Kentaro Yoshifuji, founder of Ory Laboratory, the company behind the Dawn coffee project. Mr. Yoshifuji wanted to create “A place where people can engage in society” and “Allow those with disabilities to work”.

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The initiative reflects a change in the place of disability in Japanese society, thanks to new technologies but also to a voluntarism of which the important media coverage of the Paralympic Games, which opened on August 24, appears as an illustration.

“Japan is ahead”

The public channel NHK broadcasts almost all of the Paralympic events. “When I was young, the Olympics were everywhere on TV, but the Paralympic Games were only the subject of a brief at the end of the newspaper, just before the weather forecast”, observes Barry Joshua Grisdale, Canadian settled in Japan in 2006, of which he took the nationality. Mr. Grisdale is quadriplegic and has cerebral palsy. In a wheelchair since the age of 4, he manages, among other things, the Accessible Japan site, which gives advice to tourists with disabilities wishing to travel to Japan.

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Since his first stay in the Archipelago in 2000, he has seen progress in access to infrastructure, accelerated in the run-up to the Paralympic Games. Today, 96% of the capital’s stations are equipped with elevators and many have adapted toilets. All have paths for the visually impaired.

The new taxis can take a person in a wheelchair and hotels with more than 50 rooms must now have at least one accessible to the disabled. “In terms of barrier-free installations, Japan is ahead”, recognizes Miki Matheson, deputy director of the Japanese Paralympic delegation.

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