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The first step toward an inclusive society:
Universal design map —Japan Walk in SENDAI 2017—

Japan Walk is a walking event where everyone enjoys exercise together, irrespective of their ability or disability. It is a walking event for promoting an inclusive society, designed to give everyone an opportunity to notice small steps on pavements and walk with people with disabilities so that everyone can start thinking about physical barriers in our towns and mental barriers in our minds. NTT has provided a universal design map "JAPAN WALK GUIDE" to support this event.

Walking filled with smiles and kindness

From early in the morning, many participants started to gather around the reception tent, under a clear blue sky.
"The ideal society is one where everyone can live together naturally, including people with a disability and the elderly. It would be good if there were many such events for people to contact each other. I would like to walk slowly today, enjoying it," said a former care manager who loves walking.
In the ceremony at the start-line, Olympians and Paralympians saw walkers off with a high-five, saying, "Everyone always cheers us on, so today we would like to cheer you on." With this support, nearly 1,500 participants went off in two directions toward downtown Sendai, one a long 15 km course and the other a short 4 km course. Everyone enjoys walking at their own pace, watching out for each other and cheering each other on.

Under the blue sky, a participant reached the goal in a wheelchair smiling, saying "4 km went very quickly!" and, "In my daily life sometimes I want others to ask me if I am okay when I get stuck on something. But I also understand people hesitate to, even if they want to. Maybe the people in trouble should give some signs. Getting to know each other in an event like today's, people will probably feel easier to offer help and be helped."

Various barriers around us

There are many things that we take for granted that are not normal for others, or things that we do not notice, or cannot notice, because we have not experienced them ourselves.
In the wheelchair-experience event held on the day of the event, many participants said, "I have seen wheelchairs but never pushed them or been in one myself."
Before the actual experience, everyone sat down to learn about how to operate and work a wheelchair and how to aid a wheelchair user, and went on the walking course in pairs. On the actual course, they experienced difficulties they never knew before: Some slopes they never noticed before drove the wheelchair into unexpected directions, or the wheelchair fell into a small gutter and became inoperable.

[Participants' comments]

  • "My line-of-sight was low so I was worried whether drivers could see me."
  • "I realized I had to work really hard if I wanted to catch up with the speed of other people walking normally."
  • "People and bicycles passing me by looked bigger."
  • "The decorative uneven surfaces of the pavements felt very uncomfortable in a wheelchair."
  • "If I am not careful on a downward slope, the wheelchair might speed up and it's scary. I pushed the wheelchair thinking about how to do it to make the person in the wheelchair comfortable."

The unfamiliar experience made them confused, but it was a good opportunity for everyone to think about why universal design is important.

For a good tomorrow—Inspirations from the universal design map

With "JAPAN WALK GUIDE," users can check where the steps, slopes and barrier-free facilities are on a map with their smartphone and tablet. In the walking event, participants were given a guide to check the locations of universal design facilities (slopes and washrooms), locations requiring attention (traffic lights, steps and staircases), and some attractions of the town around the walking course.
There were comments such as;
"It showed where the washroom was so it was convenient," and
"I felt safe because I could check the route I was taking beforehand."
If the speech guide feature is turned on, users can hear all the information in speech. This eliminates the danger of walking while looking at the smartphone and makes the walking a safer experience.
The other big feature is users can instantly register any new information on the map. During the walking event, many participants recorded the barriers they felt during their walks.

[Participants' comments]

  • "I am glad to see the information I registered was useful to someone in today's walking."
  • "It would be nice if many people understood that something that is of no trouble to themselves can be a barrier for others, and registered more information,"

said a local student, who had joined in the activity to create the universal design map.

From Akihito Tanaka (NTT CLARUTY)

Many athletes interested in a barrier-free society joined today's Japan Walk. Akihito Tanaka (Tama HASSAS) of NTT Claruty who plays blind soccer in international competitions as a Japan representative, enjoyed blind soccer with participants and demonstrated dribbling and shooting, showing how much fun blind soccer is.

"Even if you are visually impaired, you can play soccer using a ball with a bell in it. There are people with various disabilities, but I hope people know they can do a lot of things with small tricks," says Tanaka. Speaking of a barrier-free society, he said:
"It is actually difficult to eradicate all barriers in a society. But if it is a society where people can easily offer help to those in need, it will be an easy society for everyone to live in. Opportunities like today where you can feel there are many types of people in the world will be a step toward creating such a society. Visually impaired people cannot see maps but it is convenient that this map gives you information by speech in advance. It would be good if a lot of people noticed many barriers and registered them in the map."

From Takashi Nakata (NTT Data)

Just like Tanaka, Takashi Nakata of NTT Data, who has escorted medalist runners in marathons and 5,000 m races in Paralympics and world championships, thinks people's awareness is important for Japan to become a barrier-free society.

"There are many people with disabilities who hesitate to accept help when someone asks if they are alright, even though they are in trouble. If this happens, the person who offered help will become hesitant to offer help when they face the same situation again. Still, I hope they maintain the willingness to help and cheerfully approach people who need help. Initiatives like JAPAN WALK GUIDE are good. If everyone registered information they notice around them, people with disabilities will have more access to such information. A little bit of kindness from everyone will create a society that will enable people with disabilities to go outdoors more easily."

Finally

For many participants, this event was an opportunity to think about what they can do to realize an inclusive society.
NTT's JAPAN WALK GUIDE will be revised and improved further to make it even more usable and convenient, so that it can contribute to creating a society where everyone can live happily together, irrespective of age or disability.