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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Breaking down barriers for people with disabilities

Yoshinobu Oguchi

Sep. 5, 2017

In July, people with disabilities from around the world marched through the US capital of Washington. They included participants from Japan carrying 19 sunflowers to symbolize the victims of the mass killing.

Kyoga Ide visited the US to meet people in a similar situation to himself. "The sense of togetherness here is really amazing. I'm surprised that people from all over the world can connect like this," he said.

Ide has muscular dystrophy. It leads to progressive weakening of the muscles. He's been in a wheelchair since he was 12.

Ide moved out of his parents' home 2 years ago to live by himself. He also set up an organization that aims to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. His work includes campaigning to make railway stations and other public facilities barrier-free.

The mass killing came as a shock for Ide. He was especially shaken by what the offender said -- that people with disabilities "should disappear."

"I'll never be able to forget what happened. It could have been me at that facility," he says.

After the incident, he rented out a small room to create a space where people with and without disabilities can get together and talk.

Through discussions, Ide came to realize that there was a lack of understanding between people who have disabilities and those who don't. He decided to attend an international conference in the US to learn how other countries are dealing with the issue.

Twenty seven years ago, the US passed a law to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Since then, the effort has continued in a variety of ways.

In Washington, subway trains are level with the platform, so people don't have to step up or down. Some public facilities, such as hotels, have electric wheelchairs that people can borrow. "It's amazing that they have these. Maybe it's because of the law," says Ide.

Ide accomplished his biggest goal -- to attend a conference of people with disabilities. Leaders of organizations for such people from across the US gathered. They discussed independent living and how to live in harmony with people without disabilities. The international conference drew more than 1,000 attendees, including young leaders of groups supporting people with disabilities.

Ide talked with other participants during a break. "Did you hear about the mass killing that happened at a care facility in Sagamihara?" Ide asked.

"Oh, that was terrible. Terrible," a participant responded.
An American activist told Ide that the most important thing is to take action. "Every student, regardless of their disability, is entitled to a free and appropriate public education. And to the extent that that's not happening, then we need to demand it to happen," he said.

Ide was particularly impressed by how people are working to become more self-reliant. "Are there many people who have come up with ways to live independently?" he asked a participant.

"Of course. There are a lot of people with disabilities who work for themselves. I actually worked with someone who started specifically a support organization to help young people with disabilities who are entrepreneurs in the United States. You have to fight for it, every day," she responded.

Ide says hearing this gave him fresh resolve to continue his work in Japan. "People here are working hard, and doing what they can. We have to be strong, and speak out just like them," he says.

Ide has vowed to press on so that maybe one day, he can see the barrier between people with and without disabilities disappear.