A lawmaker with severe physical disabilities attended his first parliamentary interpellation Thursday since being elected in July and became the first lawmaker in Japan ever to use an electronically-generated voice during a Diet session. In the session of the education, culture and science committee, Yasuhiko Funago, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, greeted the committee using a speech synthesizer. He also asked questions through a proxy speaker. "As a newcomer, I am still inexperienced, but with everyone's assistance, I will do my best to tackle (issues)," he said at the beginning of the session. An aide then posed questions on his behalf and expressed his desire to see improvements in the learning environment for disabled children.
A newly elected Upper House member who has severe physical disabilities has said that her presence as a lawmaker will help turn Japan into a country where the socially vulnerable can live comfortably. Eiko Kimura, 54, of the political group Reiwa Shinsengumi, also voiced concern Friday over the current welfare service system for people with disabilities, as commuting and other economic activities are not covered through public aid. "(For example) there's no system allowing lawmakers with severe disabilities to be at the Diet while receiving (necessary) care," said Kimura, who has cerebral palsy. Kimura and Yasuhiko Funago, a lawmaker from the same political group who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, received their certificates of election through proportional representation. "I'm just overwhelmed and speechless," Funago, 61, said through his caretaker.
The Upper House on Sunday started renovation work for two newly elected lawmakers with severe physical disabilities. As Yasuhiko Funago, 61, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Eiko Kimura, 54, who has cerebral palsy, use bigger-than-normal wheelchairs, the Upper House removed three seats from its chamber for plenary sessions to create space for them to attend. The seats were at the back of the chamber near a doorway. Funago and Kimura won their races in the July 21 election as candidates for Reiwa Shinsengumi, a political group founded in April by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto to "challenge the establishment and status quo." Electric power sources will be installed where the two lawmakers will sit so they can use them to charge their wheelchairs and medical equipment.
Transport minister Kazuyoshi Akaba said Friday a study group will be set up as early as this month to consider how to make bullet trains more accessible to wheelchair users. The proposed group will include representatives from Japan Railways Group companies that operate shinkansen, Akaba told a news conference. The group will discuss ways to improve the booking system for seats designed for wheelchair users and other topics in the wake of a remark by Eiko Kimura, a House of Councilors member of minor opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi, who highlighted the difficulty in securing such seats on shinkansen. Kimura, who spoke at an Upper House committee meeting on Tuesday, has a severe disability and uses a wheelchair herself. According to the rail companies, space for one or two wheelchairs is available on each bullet train.
Instead, Saito was seen happily approaching voters on the street one by one, offering them a handshake and mouthing the words that have partly defined her campaign ahead of the July 21 Upper House election: "I am deaf." "Depending on who she's speaking to, she changes her method of conversation from sign language to lip-reading and writing," said Makiko Shimizu, her communication assistant. Whenever Saito, who completely lost her hearing in her infancy, seems to have trouble reading voters' lips, Shimizu promptly steps in to serve as her impromptu interpreter, enunciating each syllable for her so she can better grasp what they're saying. Saito is among a handful of candidates with disabilities who have thrown their hats into the ring in a bid for a seat in the Upper House. Japan has seen blind and wheelchair-using individuals ascend to the national political scene before, but the extent to which Saito and others would require extra accommodations if elected has refueled talk of a "barrier-free Diet," signifying the need for a further update of the infrastructure and protocol in the legislature.