Lack of accessible rooms a Paralympics headache

TOKYO • Paralympics chief Andrew Parsons has said the 2020 Games are on track, but raised alarm bells over a dearth of accessible hotel rooms in Tokyo with only one year to go.

"I couldn't be happier with the preparations so far. With one year to go, we're totally on schedule," he told Agence France-Presse in an interview to mark 12 months until the start of the Games on Aug 25, 2020.

But he admitted that his biggest concern was still the poor selection of hotel rooms equipped for the thousands of disabled supporters, journalists and coaches for the 13-day competition.

Athletes and some support staff will be housed in the Olympic village where there will be enough wheelchair-friendly rooms.

But outside the village, currently only half of the fully accessible rooms needed for the Games are available and Paralympic officials do not want hotels to be too widely dispersed around the vast Japanese capital for fear of creating a knock-on transport headache.

Japanese law required hotels with 50 or more rooms to have just one wheelchair-friendly option and, though this has recently been slightly improved to 1 per cent of rooms, the change will not come into effect until after the Games.

Parsons said the lack of accessible hotel rooms highlighted a social stigma sometimes faced by disabled people in Japan.

"Most probably it is perceived in Japan that people with disabilities don't travel for leisure, for business, so why have accessible hotel rooms?" said the 42-year-old.

The change in legislation will be a positive legacy from the Games and he hoped the competition would also promote a change in attitude and show that persons with disabilities can do what anyone else can "if you offer them the conditions".

He cautioned that the hotel problem "may affect" the Games and the Games experience for some but said organisers and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government were working on a solution.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2019, with the headline 'Lack of accessible rooms a Paralympics headache'. Print Edition | Subscribe