Guest blog: When not slaving away in a Japanese office, Josh Grisdale is out seeing the sights and wants to share his adopted home – from a wheelchair user’s point of view. In this blog, he describes why he started Accessible Japan.
I first visited Japan 15 years ago in 2000. It was unforgettable. Not just the exciting culture and exotic landscape, but because of adventures brought about by my disability: being carried down 5 flights of stairs in an electric wheelchair by six subway employees is not something easily forgotten! There were also many stares – not in a mean-spirited way, but innocently inquisitive. I realized then… “hey, where are all the disabled people?!” Few people with disabilities were out and about.
Fast forward to today, and I am just one of many people with a disability living life in Tokyo. Japan has changed an incredible amount and I would say that it is even more accessible than my native Canada! The rail system is very easy to use, there are many clean accessible toilets around, and most tourist sites are modified.
One reason for starting Accessible Japan was the frequent divide between what a disabled person sees as accessible and what an able-bodied person thinks is accessible. I think everyone knows what I’m talking about. I find there are two extremes: being told a place is accessible and being devastated upon arrival to find it isn’t, and being shied away from a great place because a worried owner thinks a 2cm step cannot be maneuverer by a wheelchair. While I cannot speak for every person with a disability and don’t want to say what can or cannot be done, what I can do is provide as much information as possible so the readers can decide for themselves. This is what Accessible Japan aims to do.
The major reason for starting the website, though, is the language barrier. A surprising number of hotels in Japan actually have rooms which are wheelchair accessible (called “barrier free” in Japan). However, I don’t think that the people making the hotel websites imagine that a person with a disability would come from abroad. As such, when looking at a hotel’s English-language website, you might reject it because it doesn’t mention an accessible room. However, when looking at the Japanese-language website, you find one – even listing amenities and showing pictures! Since most people just visiting Japan cannot read the language, they don’t get any further. My goal is to wade through the piles of Japanese information and list it in English. Additionally, I want to introduce some major tourist sites and aspects of everyday life through the blog.
I just started a month or two ago, so we still have a ways to go, but I would enjoy having people come along for the trip! My goal is to have a searchable database on the site in the near future – like hotels.com, but with disabled users in mind. Most information will come from translating the Japanese information first, but Accessible Japan intends to make detailed site visits in the future. I currently have no planned order of doing such visits, so if there are any requests, please ask via email (email@example.com), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AccessibleJapan), Twitter (https://twitter.com/AccessibleJapan), Google+ (https://plus.google.com/108792131332807728580) or Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/accessiblejapan/)!
Right now we are having a contest to help spread the word about Accessible Japan– you could win a free photo book of Japan just by following or tweeting! (www.accessible-japan.com/contest). The Olympics and Paralympics are coming to Tokyo in 2020 – hope to see you there!