I spent a couple weeks in Japan during the World Science Fiction Convention in 2007. After the convention finished, I spent a week visiting universities near Tokyo to learn what their disability services are like.

Most universities have their barrier free services. These departments work with the university to reduce physical barriers for access, and work to create accessible electronic textbooks for their few blind students. In Japanese, OCR software gets around 60% to 70% accuracy in conversion. None of the publishers out there will provide electronic files for students. Note: no services are provided for any mental disabilities.

One place I visited was the National Rehabilitation Center for the Blind. They train both people who are newly blind and those adults who have been blind from birth. One thing the director of Independent Living Skills Training program told me is that many of the congenitally blind people (blind from birth) do not know anything about how to take care of themselves when they come to the program. Apparently, their mothers do all of their grooming, including combing their hair for them, until they are young adults. A Japanese friend of mine says this is because the mothers feel guilty.

In Japan, once the government passes a law about access, companies have two years to start complying with the law. After that, they can and are found liable if they are not complying. For instance, one law out there is that companies larger than a certain size must have a workforce which consists of 1.5% of their employees to have disabilities. If the company does not comply, it faces continuing steep fines until it complys. Also, any accessible change in the environment which becomes law means that construction companies will not be payed until they have made the construction project fully compliant, and any errors are the company's responsibility to fix without receiving aditional pay.

One of the university professors I interviewed told me that they figure they are 20 to 30 years behind the US, and they are working diligently to correct these deficiencies.

There are jobs in Japan which blind people are very strongly encouraged to seek. However, different training institutions send a few employees to the US every five to ten years or so to learn about more things which blind people do for employment there. They then return and develop similar programs in Japan.

After all that, remember that Japan is a fairly insular culture. Outside Tokyo, Osaka, and some of the other very large cities, they tend to be very closed off from any foreigners. They tend to structure things to be less open for non-Japanese in the hope that the foreigners will decide to leave. I have heard that the part of the Japanese population which is open to foreigners being around is about 20%.

David Chittenden, MS, CRC, MRCAA

Bryan Peterson wrote:
Oh we sometimes get that here in the US as well Dark. I, too, have met a very large number of seemingly more inlightened Japanese individuals (usually teachers), who not only seemed open to the idea of blind students making the same way in the world as sighted folks but also seemed fascinated by our methods for getting along. I remember one time working with a Perkins brailler (although I happen to hate those things with a passion), and one of them came over and started trying to read it. Couldn't understand a word he was saying but it was still pretty neat. Homer: Hey, uh, could you go across the street and get me a slice of pizza?
Vender: No pizza. Only Khlav Kalash.

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