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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Disabled collateral victims of 3/11

April 20, 2014


Disabled lose local support due to Fukushima nuclear disaster





FUKUSHIMA -- Thirteen out of 28 support centers for the disabled in 10 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture's Soso district -- within 30 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant -- have either suspended service or closed down, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

The decrease in the number of these welfare service providers has imposed a burden on people with disabilities and their families, who have found themselves suddenly without local support systems.

The Mainichi Shimbun recently asked 19 disability employment service providers and nine daycare service providers for children with disabilities in the district about their operations. Of those, seven employment service centers said they have continued operating in the same place, five have moved elsewhere and seven have either suspended their operations or closed down. Meanwhile, two of the daycare facilities for children remain in the same place, one has moved and six have either suspended their operations or closed down.

A 56-year-old woman with a psychiatric disorder in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Namie, who used to frequent the local "Coffee Time" employment support service center before the disaster, suffered from auditory hallucinations for the entire month she lived as an evacuee in a school gym following the March 2011 disaster. She was able to recover after talking to some Coffee Time staff she had known well. Coffee Time reopened in October 2011 in the city of Nihonmatsu, some 65 kilometers west of Namie. The woman, after moving seven times, has settled in an apartment in the city and now works at a cafe operated by the center.

Coffee Time manager Yuriko Hashimoto said, "There is a rising demand for setting up places where people with disabilities can feel they belong, especially as circumstances have worsened for many of them still living as evacuees."

A social welfare corporation that operates many disability support centers in the district saw its staff decline from 230 to 130 in just four months after the disaster. Currently, it has 186 staff members. Even when the operator tries to recruit new employees, it does not receive many applications as people in their 20s and 30s have fled the area, hindering the reopening of all its centers.

"Support Center Pia," an NPO in Minamisoma that provides care services for people with severe disabilities, reopened in April 2011. However, it had just three of its original 20 or more staff left to help not just the center's regulars, but people who usually went to other, suddenly shuttered facilities as well. Pia recruited new employees, but manager Nobuko Koori said the center's experienced staff are gone and she is worried about Pia's future.

Iwaki resident Takayuki Furuichi, 37, a certified provider of consultation and support for people with disabilities, points out that the families of the disabled have lost their local support systems. Some parents of children with disabilities end up needing psychiatric counseling after becoming isolated in temporary housing units, with no access to after-school daycare services that have closed down or moved away. They also struggle to find people they can talk to about their children's academic paths.

Former Takasaki University of Health and Welfare specially appointed professor Yoichi Aizawa points out that government agencies need to work on establishing systems where they can collaborate with local social welfare centers to support people with disabilities and their families.



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