Certification for people with disabilities in Japan has long been cumbersome and impractical, but with the rollout of new cards and smartphone apps life is becoming much simpler.
The government has started permitting the use of cards to replace paper disability certification documents that easily tear or are or difficult to pull out and present when required.
And although the welfare ministry has permitted plastic certificates for people with intellectual disabilities for some time, in April it began giving local governments the discretion to issue the more robust documents to people with mental and physical disabilities.
The Yamaguchi prefectural government began to issue plastic cards to intellectually impaired people in fiscal 2015.
Unlike paper certificates on which changes in holders' addresses or disabilities can be appended, the cards need to be newly issued whenever any change in information occurs. Despite this, some 40 percent of those who qualify choose the card option, a local government official said.
As of Nov. 1, however, Yamaguchi is the only prefecture in Japan to issue cards, according to the welfare ministry.
Osaka, Hyogo, Tokushima and seven other prefectures have agreed to start joint studies on the issuance of plastic card certificates. But an Osaka government official said, "We need support from the central government because hundreds of millions of yen may be needed to revamp our computer system."
Many local governments are taking a wait-and-see approach because the central government is considering combining the issuance of certification for the disabled with the so-called My Number card -- the ID people use to access Japan's social security system.
While a 12-digit social security and tax identification number has been issued to all citizens and residents in Japan, only a little more than 10 percent of them have actually created and collected My Number cards.
In July, Mirairo Inc., an Osaka-based consulting company promoting barrier-free facilities, released a newly developed mobile app enabling users to receive discounts on train and plane tickets.
When users of the Mirairo ID send photos of their certificates, the company digitizes them after close authenticity checks.
"When I go out, I hang my smartphone around my neck so that I can easily use it," said Toshihito Isoya, 34, of Hachioji, Tokyo, who uses a wheelchair due to his leg impairments.
"I hardly feel conscious of people around me because I can get a discount merely by holding my smartphone (over a reader)," he said, stressing the psychological benefits of the Mirairo ID app.
Gamba Osaka, a professional soccer club in Japan's J1 League, has begun offering admission discounts to users of the app at its home stadium in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.
The number of corporate supporters for the app totaled 12 as of Nov. 1, including Gamba, Seibu Railway, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Daiichikosho Co, operator of the Big Echo karaoke shop chain.
"I have lived through using (paper) certificates for the disabled for many years and have finally enabled digitization," said Toshiya Kakiuchi, 30, founder and CEO of Mirairo, who relies on a wheelchair to get around.
"We will seek more corporate supporters to increase opportunities for the disabled," he said.© KYODO