Upper house looks to improve barrier-free facilities

Courtesy of Ory Lab Inc.

OriHime, an “avatar robot” that lawmaker Yasuhiko Funago has asked to use in the Diet

The Yomiuri Shimbun With an extraordinary Diet session scheduled to convene in the autumn, the House of Councillors is set to accelerate discussions on making its facilities more accessible, to support the activities of two severely disabled lawmakers.

Both are members of the opposition party Reiwa Shinsengumi. The focus will be on how long and in what way Yasuhiko Funago, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), will be allowed to ask questions at committee meetings.

“If preparations are thoroughly made, he can communicate smoothly. However, it will take some time for him to respond on the spot,” Reiwa Shinsengumi leader Taro Yamamoto said at a press conference on Aug. 1, the day the two lawmakers first attended the Diet. Yamamoto was seeking consideration for Funago and Eiko Kimura at future Diet deliberations.

Funago cannot speak and so conveys his thoughts by using a 50-syllable communication board that allows his caregiver to read letters by tracking his eye movements. Otherwise, he communicates by controlling a computer through a sensor that detects his biting movements.

At a committee meeting, his caregiver is expected to read out prepared questions. However, he will need more time than other lawmakers if he asks additional questions regarding the government’s response to his previous inquiries.

The time allocated for questions and answers is usually decided by the board of directors of each committee, but it is typically in keeping with the number of lawmakers belonging to each political party or group.

As Reiwa Shinsengumi has only two lawmakers, their time allocation is relatively short. Thus, a focal point will be how much consideration is to be given to the party.

Funago’s request to use an avatar robot at plenary sessions and committee meetings has also drawn attention. The robot is designed to read out letters that he selects with his eye movements, as well as raise a hand on his behalf, allowing him to communicate faster than through a caregiver.

Some people have been positive about the use of such a robot. “It’s important to secure means to communicate accurately in Diet deliberations,” said a lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party.

Funago and Kimura also hope to move into a housing facility for Diet members, and the necessary changes will be considered before this autumn’s extraordinary Diet session. More multipurpose restrooms are likely to be built on the third floor of the Diet building, where a waiting room for Reiwa Shinsengumi members is located.

It has been decided that the costs of assisting the two lawmakers will be covered by the upper house and other entities for the time being. The upper house is discussing the percentage to be handled in the future with the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and local governments.Speech

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