Can you travel to Japan if you’re disabled?
OFTEN, people with disabilities or the elderly folk find it hard to travel due to the lack of facilities and services.
But with more and more people seeking good accessibility, companies are leveling up and going barrier-free to accommodate these travelers.
According to The World Bank, one billion people, or 15 percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. One-fifth of the estimated global total, or between 110 million and 190 million people, experience significant disabilities.
And of that figure, more than 26 million adults with disabilities travel for pleasure and/or business, taking 73 million trips, according to an Open Doors Organization (ODO) study.
For many, language is already a barrier. Accessibility shouldn’t be another.
Last year, a man paralyzed below the waist was forced to climb stairs on his own using only his arms to board a Vanilla Air Inc. flight at Amami Airport in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.
Incidentally, Hideto Kijima, the 44-year-old paraplegic involved in the highly publicized incident, heads the Japan Accessible Tourism Center (JATC), a non-profit organization in the city of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture.
It is a center that provides foreign tourists with disabilities who need assistance with information about travel in Japan.
The low-cost carrier later issued an apology to Kijima and have since installed equipment to help disabled passengers board its aircraft.
Starting October, Japan will require its airlines to ensure disabled and elderly passengers can board planes while seated in wheelchairs.
It will be made compulsory for airlines that operate regular domestic and international flights in the country to introduce wheelchair lifts, ramps, and other equipment.
Airlines like Vanilla Air Inc. are more likely to require such equipment because low-cost carriers cannot be boarded directly from airport terminals as they often park their planes on the tarmac.
The country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is looking into the necessary legal changes to make it happen.
This move is part of Japan’s preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
Aside from making air travel more accessible for the disabled and the elderly, the Japanese government is also looking to increase the number of accessible hotel rooms in the country.
In June, the government announced it was aiming to amend the Cabinet Order to ensure that as standard, at least one percent of guest rooms be fully accessible to wheelchair users.
At present, the current standard requires hotels which have 50 or more guest rooms to make just one room accessible regardless of the total number of guest rooms.
Meanwhile, organizations like JATC is ready to help disabled and elderly travelers by making arrangements for care attendants, booking accommodations, offering tips for traveling, providing assistance in case of emergency problems during the trip, etc.
JATC can also plan and coordinate group tours or study tours free of charge.