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UN conference and access for disabled

March 16, 2015

U.N. disaster risk reduction conference in Sendai praised over accessibility for disabled


Sign language speakers are seen at the U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction being held in Sendai. (Mainichi)



SENDAI -- The Third U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction being held here has been praised over its accessibility for the disabled, earning acclaim from one U.N. official that it is the most barrier-free conference yet.

The event is also the first one to address together the themes of disaster-reduction and the disabled at its working groups. As a message to the world, a new action policy planned to be adopted on March 18 is expected to include the importance of disabled people participating in local disaster-reduction planning.

At the main site of the conference, on request from attendees both international sign language speakers and Japanese sign language speakers took part. At the main meetings of the conference, the contents of speeches were displayed on monitors, and among the vehicles ferrying attendees to the conference site were buses designed to accommodate wheelchairs.

Sonnia Margarita Villacres, 61, vice president of the World Federation of the Deafblind, was lent a device that displays the conference documents as braille. She said with a smile that she had visited many countries, but Japan had made the best barrier free preparations for an event.

Another conference participant, Steffen Helbing, 44, who has hearing and limb disabilities and is a member of a German nongovernmental organization, borrowed a device that displays text of comments at the conference's meetings. He said it was great that the opportunity to acquire a large amount of information is guaranteed for people with disabilities.

These barrier-free initiatives were done on the suggestion of the Nippon Foundation. The idea was spurred by the fact that the disabled had a high death rate in the Great East Japan Earthquake. According to Cabinet Office documents, in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, where 4.5 percent of the population died in the disaster, the death ratio for the disabled was almost three times higher, at 13 percent, or 125 people.

The Nippon Foundation's team leader Katsuhiro Motoyama, who works on support for the disabled, said, "It is important to have the view that disabled persons should be considered important supporters in disaster risk reduction from the stage of disaster drills and countermeasure consideration. I look forward to the same type of efforts being made around the world."

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