Create Setting That Can Also Be Used by Disabled, Elderly Persons

Elementary and junior high schools are places for learning in communities, but they also serve as evacuation centers in the event of a disaster. Promoting accessibility for these facilities must occur, so that children and other residents with disabilities as well as elderly persons can spend their time there without any problems.

In recent years, there have been growing views among people involved in school education that it is desirable for children to learn together regardless of disabilities.

Public elementary and junior high schools are accepting more children with disabilities. Special needs classes have been established in 80% of the about 28,000 elementary and junior high schools, where more than 300,000 such students are studying.

For students to have a safe school life, in addition to support from teachers, it is essential to eliminate steps and install multipurpose toilets that can be used by wheelchair users.

The need for accessibility at facilities is also increasing from the standpoint of disaster prevention.

More than 90% of public elementary and junior high schools have been designated as evacuation centers in the event of a disaster. In the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 and the large earthquakes that hit Kumamoto Prefecture in 2016, the presence of steps and the difficulty of using toilets were found to be a burden for elderly and disabled persons.

In one case, a wheelchair-using disaster victim had to visit many schools, searching for one with a multipurpose restroom. But the person was unable to find one, so they gave up on using an evacuation center and had to stay at a relative’s home.

In order to improve such a situation, in the 2020 revision of the so-called accessibility law, installing multipurpose restrooms when constructing or renovating public elementary and junior high schools with a total floor space of 2,000 square meters or more became obligatory.

The installation rate of multipurpose restrooms in school buildings stood at only about 70% as of last September, however.

The government has set a goal of installing multipurpose restrooms in all public elementary and junior high schools designated to be used as evacuation shelters by fiscal 2025, with overall installment of at least 90%, but this is proving difficult to achieve.

Situations vary from one local government to another. Among ordinance-designated major cities, Osaka and Fukuoka have completed the installation of multipurpose toilets, while Hamamatsu has installed them at only about 33% of schools. The city said this is due to the priority given to earthquake-resistant construction in preparation for a major earthquake.

In addition, there are voices at some municipalities considering school consolidation due to the declining birth rate saying that they are finding it difficult to make installation plans.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is promoting accessible facilities by increasing the subsidy rate from one-third to one-half, but many municipalities are likely putting off the installation of restrooms and other facilities due to a lack of financial resources.

In addition to that provided by the education ministry, there are other support programs for making a facility accessible. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry supports the construction of facilities at schools designated as evacuation centers from the perspective of improving the living environment for disaster evacuees.

Each local government must improve communication among the board of education, fiscal section and disaster prevention section and make effective use of these governmental support measures to improve school facilities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 22, 2023)