Torchbearer from Aichi helping to build a barrier-free society

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Thirty-three years ago, a traffic accident left KISHIKO Kodera in a wheelchair, wondering ‘why did I have to survive?’

But it seemed that every time she visited the city with her friends, who also have impairments, there were more places where she could move around freely, and she started to think she could enjoy life.

The city was changing after the People-Friendly Urban Development Regulation passed by her own Aichi Prefectural Government.

Kodera, who had an interest in these developments, believed that the more people she met, the more considerate people would be towards those with impairments. So, she founded an nonprofit organisation (NPO) with her friends called the Tōkai People-Friendly Urban Development Network, and has been raising awareness ever since.

Seventeen years have passed since they founded the NPO and they have been able to produce barrier-free access maps, provide accessible classrooms in primary and middle schools, hold barrier-free concerts, and more. All the while producing projects to make life in a wheelchair more enjoyable.

Why did you apply to be a torchbearer?

I’ve undertaken many volunteer activities in the local community, not only NPO activities. There aren’t many things I can do with an impairment, but what I did was because of the people who accepted me and worked with me. I want to thank them and express my gratitude.

When did you start the NPO, and what were your thoughts at the time? Were there difficulties?

We founded the NPO 17 years ago. We wanted it to be a parent organisation that would engage in activities to raise awareness and connect with people like ourselves, and the aim was to promote ‘people-friendly urban development’. We had a lot of momentum in the beginning and we were able to gain many supporters, but their numbers have gradually declined, and I feel that it will be difficult to continue.

How do you feel the environment has changed for you as a wheelchair user in the 33 years since your accident?

In the city 33 years ago, there were steps in store entrances and the only restrooms accessible for wheelchair users were in public facilities. Today there are slopes in entrance ways, and there are more toilets at large shopping centres, chemists, convenience stores and so on, so I have been able to become quite active.

Is there anything you hope to see as a wheelchair user attending the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020?

I would be glad if it was an environment where I could casually go and visit on my own without assistance. An environment needs to be set up for that. It would be nice if there were wheelchair-accessible toilets in bars and small restaurants where we could all have fun chatting.

Please tell us what you want to tell everyone as a torchbearer, and what you are excited about.

Let’s become a society in which impairments aren’t handicaps!