International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons said he 'couldn't be happier' with Tokyo's preparations so far Photo: AFP/File
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Paralympics chief says Tokyo hotels 'biggest concern'

25 Comments
By Richard Carter

The Paralympics chief has said the 2020 Games are "on track," but raised alarm bells over a dearth of accessible hotel rooms in Tokyo with only one year to go.

"I couldn't be happier with the preparations so far. With one year to go, we're totally on schedule, on track," Andrew Parsons told AFP in an interview to mark 12 months until the start of the games on August 25, 2020.

However, he admitted that his "biggest concern" was still the poor selection of hotel rooms equipped for the thousands of disabled supporters, journalists and coaches poised to descend on Tokyo for the 13-day competition.

Athletes and some support staff will be housed in the Olympic village where there will be enough wheelchair-friendly rooms.

But outside the village, currently only half of the fully accessible rooms needed for the Games are available and Paralympic officials do not want hotels to be too widely dispersed around the vast Japanese capital for fear of creating a knock-on transport headache.

Japanese legislation previously required hotels with 50 or more rooms to have just one wheelchair-friendly option and although this has recently been slightly improved to ensure one percent of rooms are accessible, the change will not come into effect until after the Games.

Parsons said the lack of accessible hotel rooms highlighted a social stigma sometimes faced by disabled people in Japan.

"Most probably it is perceived in Japan that people with disabilities don't travel for leisure, for business, so why have accessible hotel rooms?" said the 42-year-old Brazilian.

The change in legislation will be a positive legacy from the Games and Parsons hoped the competition would also promote a change in attitude.

"What the Games will hopefully show is that persons with disabilities can travel, they can do anything that anyone else can if you offer them the conditions," he said.

He cautioned that the hotel problem "may affect the Games and it may affect the Games experience of some of our clients" but said organizers and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government were working on a solution.

"They understand they have an issue. They understand this is a problem for us, for the Games, so we are working on it together."

Parsons said he hoped the later start date for the Paralympics would reduce some of the problems feared from heat and humidity during the Olympics but noted that there were specific issues faced in disability sport.

For example, many quadriplegic athletes are unable to sweat, meaning they need to take additional measures to cool their body, he said.

Like the Olympics, organizers have brought forward the start time for the marathon to beat the blistering sun but this also brings its own challenges for Paralympians.

"Wheelchair users need more time to prepare, so it probably means they will have to wake up at 2am but the wellbeing of athletes is the number-one priority for us," stressed the IPC boss.

Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike has repeatedly insisted that Tokyo 2020 will only be a success if the Paralympic Games goes off without a hitch and the aging Japanese capital is hoping to seize on the opportunity to improve infrastructure for the elderly.

But Parsons emphasized the need to change attitudes towards disabled people in Japan, which he said was "over-protective."

He noted that despite an accessible transport system, "you don't see persons with disabilities moving around because there is a cultural barrier. There is an expectation that they should stay at home," said Parsons.

But opinions are already changing in Japan, he added, pointed to the recent election of two disabled people to the Upper House of parliament.

He predicted that an improved performance by the home team, which failed to win a single gold at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, plus a broad marketing campaign in Tokyo will see packed-out stadiums.

More than anything, he hopes to target children -- the "decision-makers of the future" -- so they understand that "people with disabilities are citizens, they are part of society like anyone else."

"If a blind runner can run 100m in 10 or 11 seconds, they can do anything they want."

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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"Wheelchair users need more time to prepare, so it probably means they will have to wake up at 2am but the wellbeing of athletes is the number-one priority for us," stressed the IPC boss.

Wow! That is tough. I was not aware of this situation. I hope it works out.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Most able-bodied people have no idea of the extreme challenges those with disabilities face. The average person just thinks about getting a wheelchair from A to B. However, the challenges and disabilities go far beyond this obvious point. Perhaps the biggest problem those with disabilities face is prejudice, sadly. Hopefully, the people of Tokyo will change their attitude towards physically and mentally handicapped people during the Paralympic games. It would be nice to see the people of Tokyo being more accommodating to all people with disabilities every day. Perhaps the games will start the ball rolling.

9 ( +12 / -3 )

And speaking of which, my transfer station at Ginza literally gets narrower by the day with new construction. Even one person with a suitcase causes a major human traffic jam. As far as I recall I never saw a wheelchair in there.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Hopefully all that construction at Ginza is in order to make it more accessible and hopefully it will be completed soon!

Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike has repeatedly insisted that Tokyo 2020 will only be a success if the Paralympic Games goes off without a hitch and the aging Japanese capital is hoping to seize on the opportunity to improve infrastructure for the elderly.

I like Koike's thinking. The Paralympic effect is pretty much the only (or at least the primary) reason I support Tokyo hosting the games.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I would think their biggest concern would be it's likely to be hot as hell August 25.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike has repeatedly insisted that Tokyo 2020 will only be a success if the Paralympic Games goes off without a hitch and the aging Japanese capital is hoping to seize on the opportunity to improve infrastructure for the elderly.

I like Koike's thinking. '

Me too , but as Parsons said its not only infrastructure but also the average Japanese attitude towards the disabled that needs to improve. ...Lets hope.

@Disillusioned......well said indeed, couldnt agree more mate. Fingers crossed.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

The Paralympics should not be awarded unless a plan is shown to prove hotel bed accessibility. Obviously it wasn't. Or they lied.

The majority of tickets should be sold to those with disabilities who want to attend. If the majority of spectators are able-bodied it kind of becomes a show. Right?

0 ( +5 / -5 )

The change in legislation will be a positive legacy from the Games and Parsons hoped the competition would also promote a change in attitude.

Hope all you want, this is Japan, and things are not going to change, unless the hotels can get public funding to make the necessary upgrades, otherwise forget it.

Everyone will pay lip service to the needs, until the games are over!

6 ( +8 / -2 )

i am surprised that Japanese society has such an archaic attitude in the 21st. century. Here's hoping the Paralympics begin a fundamental change, as with a rapidly ageing population they will need it as sadly old age can for many bring increasing disability.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Yubaru: "Everyone will pay lip service to the needs, until the games are over!"

Bingo!! And how are the trains going to work during the paralympics, already being so crowded that there is NO WAY even a single wheelchair could be shoved in?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I doubt that hotels are the answer - at least in time for the Olympics. Modifying existing structures can be quite difficult and time consuming. Maybe the organizers should establish another village - maybe along the lines of the disaster temporary housing complexes. Equipped for disabled and their families, of course.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Japanese legislation previously required hotels with 50 or more rooms to have just one wheelchair-friendly option and although this has recently been slightly improved to ensure one percent of rooms are accessible, the change will not come into effect until after the Games.

That’s actually not an improvement. A 50 room hotel is now only required to have 0.5 rooms accessible to wheelchair users.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Why not design a wheelchair that can walk up steps? Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier, especially with modern tech, to modify the disabled mode of transport than than to modify the building?

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Tokyo is a city full of steps and different levels.

I'm not disabled but injured my hip last year, and Tokyo was an absolute nightmare.

It wasn't just the number of times I had to go up or down some steps - but it was the first time I'd really noticed the lack of places to rest. There are very few benches, or even low walls that you can sit down on, and also few shaded places that provide an escape from the sunlight.

Due to the heat and humidity, the Olympics will be a nightmare for most visitors, but add in the design of the city and it's just going to be awful for disabled visitors.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

i recall that the British Paralympic team were initialy asked to meet the costs of the hotel making more rooms accessible AND the cost of retrofitting back to 'normal' after their stay.

Japan at its welcoming best?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Why not design a wheelchair that can walk up steps? Wouldn't it be cheaper and easier, especially with modern tech, to modify the disabled mode of transport than than to modify the building?

There is actually a technology competition called Cybathlon that works to improve assistive technology including wheelchairs that could climb up stairs. But if you think it's easier to make the technology or for the disabled to use the wheelchairs or to afford it, check out the videos and decide:

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/nhknewsline/ataglance/20190524/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVn7W8qyzKk

1 ( +1 / -0 )

There is an expectation that they should stay at home," said Parsons.

Not anymore.When I first came here in the early 90s that seemed the case,but nowadays,where I live anywhere,it's pretty common to see people in wheelchairs.

I noticed the article was using the word "disabled" quite a bit.I thought it was nowadays a no-no. Isn't it supposed to be physically challenged? Or was it too mendokusai to write?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Let's clear up a few points. The Olympic Village housing will apparently include enough disabled-access rooms for the Paralympics athletes and "some" of their support teams. Elsewhere, the disabled-access accommodation available is not sufficient for the rest of their support teams, or for spectators, journalists and coaches. This means that Tokyo's Olympics will also lack sufficient accommodation for these people. Next, AFAIK, there is no "Japanese legislation" regarding wheelchair-friendly rooms, it is all regional. In any case, moving from "one wheelchair-friendly option" in 50 rooms to "one percent of rooms" is not actually an improvement. In my experience, this "wheelchair-friendly option" is regarded as a tiresome intrusion by hotel operators who cannot wait to use it as a changing room for wedding guests, versus a negotiating point for local government bureaucrats trying to exert their authority. Both sides will need extensive training to actually provide useful facilities for people who will really need it just one year from now. And finally, if those disabled support teams, spectators, journalists and coaches need to travel on public transport, all travel will require advance planning, some journeys will be impossible and just forget the Ginza line .....

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This isn't going to be a difficult thing to resolve. There are lots of temporary solutions that can be put in place. I know as I have first hand experience with this in Central Tokyo. The only difficulty will be in getting the collective cooperation of a targeted set of Hoteliers and the local Ward offices. But the current problem, I'd imagine, is that at present, the shortfall (if it exists) is an unknown quantity.

I suspect that this chap - Parsons, is scare-mongering. Disabled people do venture out of their homes ! And here in Tokyo, people (complete Strangers) offer to help them get on/off trains, etc... unlike in other Countries (from experience). And believe it or not, the International community is also among those who I have seen offering to help.... perhaps when living in Japan, being good mannered towards each other is something that spreads across different Cultures ?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japan is not the best country to be handicapped in. I have noticed changes though, but the Olympics is coming soon.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Don't tell him that it was only the other day the Diet building was being made barrier free, but it was decided the building was too old for a lift (eye roll)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

As a hotel owner in Japan, I was recently sent a letter from local council explaining this situation. There was an offer that they would put 20% toward the cost of the renovations to make my place wheelchair accessible (It was a generic letter sent to all hotel owners). It would involve putting a 4-floor elevator at my place which would be virtually impossible considering the age and design. It makes sense on newly built properties but not existing multi-story buildings which would need to be butchered to offer this access.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Making places accessible for the disabled means using more space which runs counter to the Japanese way of thinking on this crowded island.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

HBJAug. 21  07:39 pm JST

I'd really noticed the lack of places to rest. There are very few benches, or even low walls that you can sit down on, and also few shaded places that provide an escape from the sunlight.

I'm glad someone else noticed this, too. In Osaka, after hurting my knee, I had to walk around for quite a bit on business. I was exhausted and I couldn't find any benches or places to sit anywhere.

I finally sat on a flower bed edge to give myself a little rest. I wasn't in the way of anyone walking on the sidewalk or anything.

A security guard came up and told me to leave. I told him I just needed to sit for a couple of minutes but he still made me leave right away. Eventually, I had to just find a place on the ground to lay my butt on until my knee was feeling better.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Speed

I would have just stayed there-he could not have done anything to you.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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