Last week we had the opportunity to work with an NPO here in Tokyo called D-Ships that educates people on accessibility for people with disabilities. We were able to learn through doing, which means we were provided wheelchairs and were set free on the streets of Tokyo for an hour to do some community service.
As an event company, must think about logistics and accessibility for all. The experience was very eye-opening and showed us a totally different point of view of Tokyo.
First we had basic training on how to use the wheelchair. We learned different ways to turn based on the situation, different signals to use and ways to stop and go. We also learned proper techniques to push and support the person in the chair.
We were tasked with picking up trash while we were out and about. We broke into teams and each group had a wheelchair and a trash bag. We took turns riding in the wheelchair and experiencing daily life things – like using the bathroom, buying something from the store, going to a cafe, using a vending machine, etc. It was also your turn to pick up trash when you were in the wheelchair.
We found out how difficult everyday things really can be with limited access.
Everywhere you go you see ramps into shops and restaurants and think they are accessible by wheelchair. However, most of the ramps are at an extreme angle and very difficult to manage without assistance. Even going down is very difficult.
We had fun and got lucky with beautiful weather. I remember thinking what it would be like having to do this same activity in the rain. It would be so much MORE difficult.
We took the exercise and the competition seriously and collected lots of litter and cigarette butts. The team with the most won a prize.
Afterward, we had a discussion about what we experienced. Our mentor throughout this experience, Uehara-san was very insightful, optimistic and educational. He is a para Olympian who has lived life in a wheelchair since birth and has experienced much more than many of us are able to do in our lifetime.
“A problem brings new opportunity” said Uehara-san. He also discussed how the barriers can be a good thing because they promote communication between people in everyday life who would otherwise not necessarily communicate. We was very impressive.
After talking together, we all realized how we weren’t really able to appreciate the difficulties or notice the barriers until we experienced it first hand. Even the smallest bump can become dangerous from a wheelchair. Familiar roads seemed totally different with this new perspective.
We are thankful to have experienced this and look forward to helping plan barrier free events in the future.