Two newly-elected lawmakers, Yasuhiko Funago, right, and Eiko Kimura, in wheelchairs are helped to arrive for an extraordinary session of the parliament's upper house in Tokyo Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Japan’s parliament convened after elections and a minor renovation at the upper house. Funago, who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a progressive neurological disease known as ALS, and Kimura who has cerebral palsy, won the July 21 elections at the less-powerful of the two chambers, representing an opposition group. (Muneyuki Tomari/Kyodo News via AP)

New emperor opens Japan's Diet, now wheelchair accessible

August 01, 2019 - 2:13 am

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's Diet convened Thursday after elections and a renovation at the upper house to improve its accessibility for two new lawmakers who use wheelchairs.

For the new session of parliament, Emperor Naruhito is to deliver his first opening speech since ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1. The session ends next week before a fuller session reopens in the autumn.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc secured a majority in the July 21 elections but fell short of the two-thirds threshold in the house needed to reach his long-cherished goal of amending the constitution.

Two lawmakers in the upper house use wheelchairs, Yasuhiko Funago, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Eiko Kimura, who has cerebral palsy. They represent an opposition group led by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto.

Ahead of Thursday's session, dubbed "barrier-free Diet," the government installed a slope and created enough space to accommodate the two lawmakers whose conditions require larger wheelchairs and caregivers.

Their presence is a sign of a change in the country where disabled people are encouraged to stay home or at special facilities removed from ordinary workplaces, education or communities, and also a test if Japan's conservative world of politics is ready to promote a more inclusive society for everyone ahead of Tokyo's hosting of 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

"I'm thankful to the upper house for their effort to remove physical obstacles, but there are many other things that have been left undone," Kimura said as she arrived at the upper house entrance, where she was welcomed by dozens of her cheering supporters. "We will tackle those issues at the parliament."

Kimura and Funago said they would seek reforms in education and caregiving for the disabled to promote a more inclusive society.


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