Universities and Universal Design

Hello everyone!

It’s Sunday, so that means it’s time for a new blog post.

This past week was fairly eventful – and often in ways that I wasn’t anticipating! Each morning, I wrote a couple of pages of my dissertation, and while I won’t belabor the point I’ll say that I made a lot of progress.

Now, on to the fun stuff!

On Monday, I traveled back to Toranomon where I met with Ms. Masako Okuhira of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Dr. Emiko Tanaka of Tokyo Kasei University. We spoke about my research into the history of disability movements in Japan as a group before making a list of contacts who might help me and archives I might be able to use. I won’t spoil too much for now, but I will say that the Nippon Foundation has some excellent resources on the social history of Hansen’s Disease and the Japan Disability Forum has some additional materials worth exploring. I can’t wait to dig in!

On Tuesday, I took the train out to Kanda to attend a meeting of DPI Japan’s Barrier-Free Working Group. The meeting focused primarily on Japan’s infrastructural development prior to the Olympic and Paralympic games, emphasizing recent developments in UD (Universal Design) taxis, airport construction,  hotel room accessibility, and route mapping. Perhaps the most important development to come out of the meeting was a discussion about upcoming revisions to the Barrier-Free Law. One recommendation, which I hope makes it into the law, calls for the establishment of a national council on barrier-free development. That council would be comprised of members from several local committees including persons with disabilities, engineers, and other relevant parties who could collectively determine the needs of individuals in various parts of the country and ways of addressing those needs. While it isn’t a foolproof system, it promises better modes of representation that those that currently exist. I’m optimistic and excited!

On Wednesday, I was supposed to travel to Tokyo Metropolitan University to sit in on a class by Dr. Akihiro Sugino, one of the nation’s leading experts on disability theory. Unfortunately, my caregivers did not arrive on time and I was unable to make it out of the house. While missing Dr. Sugino’s class was unfortunate enough, I had to spend an hour-and-a-half waiting in bed for my caregivers to arrive. During that time, I coughed uncontrollably as I was unable to fully sit up and clear my throat. At times, I felt as if I might drown. Truly, it was a dangerous experience that made me realize I need to (re)solve my ongoing caregiver problem as soon as possible.

On Thursday, I decided to stay in and work as I was still exhausted from Wednesday’s ordeal. A bit of writing, tea, and relaxation put me right as rain, and I managed to make it out again on Friday.

On Friday, I took two Skype calls in the morning from colleagues in the United States before rushing over to the University of Tokyo to meet with my advisor, Dr. Satoshi Fukushima. Dr. Fukushima and I spent the better part of an hour talking about the latter chapters of my dissertation and the overall objective of my research before heading over to a conference of 24-hour caregiver support for students in Japanese universities. The conference provided an appropriate venue for me to express my concerns about my ongoing caregiving situation in front of a room full of experts. Most seemed shocked to hear about what was happening and offered to help me formulate a plan. I hope to enact that plan starting on Monday.

On Saturday, I traveled back to the University of Tokyo to attend a conference on the history of academic accommodation in Japan.  The conference was really interesting, covering the fifteen year history of the Office of Student Disability Services at the University of Tokyo and the challenges faced by that office. It also explored potential solutions to those challenges based on American and Korean precedent and sought to address questions like “what is an accessible university?” and “how can universities contribute to the creation of an accessible society?” I really enjoyed taking part in the conference, and I think that my notes will help me in the future.

Today, I’ve spent most of my morning in bed doing a bit of writing. I think I’m going to relax for the rest of the day and take it easy as this coming week promises to be as busy as the last!

As always, thanks so much for reading, and stay tuned!

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