What Aid Can People with Disabilities Give in the Disaster Area?


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What Aid Can People with Disabilities Give in the Disaster Area?

July 23, 2011

Yesterday I went to the progress meeting of the Yumekaze Fund.  This is a fund initially created at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake to aid people with disabilities during time of natural disasters.  They reported that the fund is being use effectively after the Great East Japan Earthquake and that they are very busy transport people in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures.  They said that running the operation is very fulfilling.  I went to this meeting because I had found it strange that so many people with disabilities had survived in Miyagi and Iwate.  We visited Fukushima Prefecture multiple times.  From these visits, we know that in the evacuation zone, because the entire population of the area was moved out, there were of course people with disabilities.  However, we barely found any survivor with disabilities from the tsunami struck areas of Fukushima.  So I asked “Why so many people with disabilities survived the tsunami in Miyagi and Iwate but not Fukushima, so much so that it keeps them very busy transporting them?”  Their answer was what I had suspected.  “There are actually very few people with disabilities.  The people we are transporting are the elderly.”  So they are using the fund set up to help people with disabilities to help the elderly instead.  There is a very important distinction here.  It is true that many elderly need transportation assistance.  What the elderly do not know is that this operation is made possible by a fund for people with disabilities.  The people running this operation are treating the elderly they are transporting as people with disabilities, but the elderly do not know this and may not agree with this categorization.  What I’m trying to say is that a fund for people with disabilities should be used for people who identify with being people with disabilities.  This may seem like a minor point, but it is actually a very important point.  This point, if left uncorrected, may take us in the completely wrong direction when thinking about the social significance of people with disabilities.  I want to emphasize this point now because we are at a critical juncture.  More than ever, we need to let people know of the important role people with disabilities have taken and can take on in our society.


I have taken care of the elderly.  I cared for both my father-in-law and my own mother.  I know from bitter experience that the elderly, even if they cannot move at all, do not change their mindset and keep holding on to the belief that “I am not like you (i.e. people with disabilities).”  What the elderly do not realize is that this sense of “superiority” is what makes the elderly constrain, confine, torture themselves to the point of suicide (suicide includes not just active suicide but also passive suicide).  My guess is, most of the elderly receiving transportation assistance from the above operation, are already on the path to gradual passive suicide.  The elderly are not like us who have “always been disabled for as long as we can remember.”  People running the operation need to realize this or they will be met with great shock.  What the elderly need to do is to accept their disabilities and learn to live with pride as people with disabilities.  They need to understand that they are making a fresh start at a new phase of their life.  In order to do this, we need to undo decades of eugenic conditioning.  This is a huge task.  It is common knowledge that 20% of all Americans are people with disabilities.  In Japan, where the rate of aging of the population is twice that of the United States, the reported percentage of people with disabilities is a mere 5%.  In this country, people with disabilities are “inconvenient existences” that they’d rather not notice.  They want to keep us a small minority, keeping us down, making us invisible, and forgetting about us because disabilities are such a big stigma in Japan.  They assign physicians to guard against people calling themselves people with disabilities by making the criteria strict and making people prove how “severe”, “difficult” and “grim” their state is.  Only with this “proof” can people become “officially disabled.”  They make people jump through hoops so that the number of people with disabilities is kept down.  Japan has been closed off from international common sense in this way for nearly half a century.  Because people with disabilities are a small minority, it is easy for the government to cut spending, but if we are talking about more than 20% of the population, spending for people with disabilities would have to be taken up and discussed as a key General Accounts budget.  If this happens, the truths that have been kept hidden will be opened up.  This is the same mentality that drew a line across Fukushima Prefecture after 3.11 to call one side “safe” and one side “contaminated”, the same mentality that tries to make us not notice the unsettling realities.  Creating this kind of false sense of ease will have detrimental effects in our future.  How many times is Japan going to repeat these futile acts before it learns from its mistakes?


Two centers for independent living (CIL), Mainstream Association and Muchu Center, announced that they are sending people with disabilities to Iwate Prefecture to aid in the recovery efforts.  Two care givers will be accompanying them.  Direct aid by people with disabilities is obviously necessary and something that should have happened much earlier.  If we let people without disabilities take over the discussion and decision making for the independent living of people with disabilities, we need to wonder what happened to our independence in the first place.  When I tell people I visited Fukushima to support the activities of Mr. Shiraishi, both people with and without disabilities alike tell me “Oh no, but you must have gotten in peoples way.”, “What would you do there?”, and “You were probably just an extra burden on them.”  We have to realize this kind of mentality and value system are what rob us of our independence, creating society after society that treats people without disabilities as needed and people with disabilities as unneeded.  Funds collected in the name of people with disabilities need to be used for people with disabilities.  Furthermore, I believe these funds should also be used to support people with disabilities going to the affected areas to aid so that they can set up what they need and also pay their caregivers from this fund.  This is in fact reasonable accommodation stipulated in the UN convention, and if we are a society that cannot even understand this, there is no future for Japan!!


この投稿文は次の言語で読めます: Japanese

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