As a part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, our team in Japan recently participated in Mirairo Inc.'s "Bremen Survey Team," which is an event for utilizing Bmaps, a map-based accessibility info app. While experiencing movement from a wheelchair perspective, the participants posted accessibility info to Bmaps. In this latest exercise, we made an accessibility survey of the Ginza area that surrounds our Tokyo office.
Answering the question: "What are information barriers?"
The event began by teaching fundamental knowledge on disabilities. People with disabilities are not the only ones affected by barriers; they also affect the elderly, persons pushing strollers, and even foreign visitors. A discussion of how and when such persons are inconvenienced promoted a clearer understanding of the issues they face.
Through this, participants learned the importance of changing people's awareness. It also highlighted the importance of rethinking facilities. But above all, everyone learned how important it is to communicate accessibility information to those who need it most, despite the lack of an established method to do so at present. In other words, they learned about the "information barrier" that exists today.
Bmaps offers the means to eliminate this information barrier. Bmaps is a map-based accessibility info app that allows everyone to cooperate in gathering accessibility information―not just for hotels and restaurants, but for all places everywhere. The app was developed by Mirairo Inc. with support by the Japan Foundation, and is being jointly operated with CANPAN Center, a nonprofit organization. It allows people to share info in 17 categories important to a variety of users when going out. This includes ratings and photos of stores and facilities, whether or not there are surface level variations, plus information on elevators, spaciousness, lighting, and more. For example, people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing communicate with sign language, so room lighting is an important factor for them. Participants were made to recognize the point of the survey while learning such key aspects.
Using a wheelchair in the city streets, participants quickly discovered the pitfalls around Ginza
Participants were organized into five groups to survey the Ginza area. One wheelchair was lent to each group and during the survey they took turns between being the wheelchair driver or supporter.
For most everyone, it was their first time using a wheelchair, and they were shocked at how it changed their impression of places they used easily every day. This was illustrated by comments such as "even slight slopes and height differences were frightening," and "boxes left in passageways blocked me from getting through." Even their approach to providing assistance changed after maneuvering in a wheelchair. Participants learned to play close attention in order to feel safe in a wheelchair. One of the things they learned from this exercise was that some parts of Ginza still have barriers. Countless tourists come to visit Ginza, and although it has the image of a highly refined metropolitan area, another of its characteristics is that once you stray from the main streets, it is filled with pockets of historical streetscapes. But because the buildings are so old, they are filled with barriers that are easy to overlook such as a lack of elevators, and even establishments on ground level have stepped surfaces of seven inches or more.
Once everyone returned to the office, they shared their impressions of accessibility through group work. This resulted in sharing the realization that things built for the convenience and conditions of "most" people are prone to having barriers.
What we learned from the survey
Although we discovered many things we hadn't noticed before, most notably, we became aware of the importance of experiencing things ourselves. Sometimes things we do with good intentions end up causing difficulties for others. You become keenly aware of that once you're looking down a steep slope yourself. Experiencing wheelchairs firsthand made problems that we overlooked before quite obvious, and personally going through this process was a valuable learning experience for all.
Concur Labs, where Concur's innovations are born, has been working on the development of "ARC," a service that allows even persons with visual impairments to calculate expenses from receipts. Through technology and a flexible mindset, we are focused on providing services that recognize the diversity of users.
Recently, we have even received inquiries on whether actual wheelchair users can participate in the seminar. We hope to make effective use of this recent experience to ensure as many people as possible can participate in the seminar with confidence.