By: Justin Schroth

Most of us living with a disability know one thing that can reshape our world, Technology. The most obvious may be wheelchairs, hearing aids, or prosthetic limbs to name a few. They impact the way many of us live our life, giving us greater access to everyday needs. So, it is no surprise that with technological advancements comes new tech that will allow more people to be included in activities that were previously inaccessible. The Mitsui Fudosan Group has begun to use such technologies in a variety of ways to increase the accessibility and inclusion of all manner of people in part of Nihonbashi (a district of Tokyo, Japan), and it has already changed lives.

Just like other parts of Tokyo, Nihonbashi can get very crowded during peak season, making it more difficult to navigate to your location. This difficulty is compounded if you can’t see signs from the lower vantage point of a wheelchair in the crowd or if you are living with a visual impairment. To combat these challenges, a large section of Nihonbashi (approx. 376,700 ft2/35,000 m2) supports the use of a navigation app known as Inclusive Navi. To assist users in finding their desired location, the app provides GPS-like turn-by-turn optimized directions with specific visual map and auditory directions, even throughout the underground sections. However, these directions are more complex than a simple GPS, this app also provides details incorporating the users needs such as wheelchair ramps, multipurpose toilets, and even position of elevator buttons. It is also available with Japanese or English audio or text guidance (plus Chinese & Korean text-only) making it additionally inclusive. For some this is a game-changing piece of technology, and welcome tool for anyone to use (with a disability or not). It’s amazing that such a useful app is free for smartphone users.

It would be simple to stop there, but The Mitsui Fudosan Group decided to take a step further by not only helping customers, but employees living with disabilities. DAWN Avatar Robot Café Ver. β, is an experimental café run by robots connected to staff members who live with severe disabilities, allowing them to work remotely and is the permanent version of the pop-up cafe we reviewed before. The name and even the idea behind it sounds like something from a Science-Fiction story, but this idea isn’t Science-Fiction, it’s Science-Fact. Dedicated to inclusion and diversity in the workplace for customers and employees alike, this café is the first permanent shop of its kind to use technology like this. Equipped with charming humanoid robots, the staff earn a wage working as waiters/waitresses to serve orders, they can see customers via built-in camera, use a mic to chat with guests, and even make new friends. This can make a big difference in the lives of people living with disabilities, who may have no other option. In the following short video, from NHK World, you can see for yourself how such an opportunity can truly impact a life in a positive direction

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/9999741/

With advances like this, and the right implementation of technology, can have a dramatic effect on the lives of countless people. Accessible Japan itself depends on technology to provide its services, and all of us working here believe it is a welcome bit of advancement that allows us to in-turn help others in traveling, communication, and in life. Those of us at Accessible Japan would love to hear about technology that has helped you or technology that you would like to see more available, so please leave us a comment below and let us know!

For more about Inclusive Navi:

iPhone app link: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/inclusive-navi/id1423940361#?platform=iphone

Google Play app link: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=hulop.navcog.shimizu.IncNavi&hl=en_US&gl=US

For more about DAWN Avatar Robot Café Ver. Β: https://dawn2021.orylab.com/en/

Featured image credit: 2021 ©DAWN CAFE


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