On March 26th, the Barrierless City Awards and Competition was held in downtown Tokyo.  The competition began as the effort of two architects – one a wheelchair user – as they struggled to find enough accessible accommodations for athletes in an international wheelchair tennis competition.  Being from the design and architecture world, they decided to start a competition to promote accessible design.

Entries ranged from a design that used projectors to let users soar above the city – in an homage to the glass elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – to show people the freedom elevators can provide, to smartphone apps designed by entrants from a women’s college to help users communicate with foreign guests, to plans for restoring an old train station and incorporating art and community. The judges were established top-tier architects and designers – including a Kenyan architect who splits his time working in both Japan and Kenya, and a world-class wheelchair tennis player.

Another presenter was Yuriko Oda who runs Wheelchair Walker (in Japan, many magazines are called “… Walker” and are something like a digest, or periodical publication).  Mrs. Oda and her husband Yoichi, have not let her disability from a rare muscle disease stop their daily lives.  Instead, they use it to show the active lives that people with disabilities can live by making YouTube videos of their experiences.  Definitely check out their videos – they even have English subtitles on some videos!  Visit their YouTube Channel here – Wheelchair Walker. They will also be partnering with Google to create a crowd-sourced accessibility map (we hope to help out!). Wheelchair Walker often works with a producer from NHK World (the Japanese public broadcast station), so a camera crew was there to help share about the event.

Another participant was Wheelchairs of Hope.  This NPO connects people in Japan with other countries in Asia by sharing unused wheelchairs.  Wheelchairs of Hope was started by an American lady living in Japan with a disabled son.  Since the wheelchairs that were used by children were just thrown out when they were outgrown, she decided to collect them and organized people to clean them and help take them to various parts of Asia where most people cannot afford wheelchairs.  Follow them on Facebook – Wheelchairs of Hope.

Accessible Japan was also given a few minutes to share about a foreigner’s perspective on accessibility in Japan – thank you Barrierless City!

We look forward to seeing where these projects lead and hope to get involved in some of them.

For those who speak Japanese, check out the event’s website – Barrierless City Awards & Competition.


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