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Helping to make progress anew A Map App for All of Wheelchair Users' Movement Needs

SDGsHelping to make progress anewA Map App for All of Wheelchair Users' Movement Needs

Yuma Yamazaki / Sarina Satomi
Toward a Truly Barrier-Free Society Where People Connect Heart-to-Heart

"Enabling everyone to visit the venue safely and securely as well as to enjoy watching the Games to the fullest." This aspiration gave birth to Japan Walk Guide, a barrier-free route guidance app that adopts leading communication technologies. The app shows barrier-free routes from the nearest station to the venue in order to enable wheelchair users to travel alone. It also provides more detailed barrier-free information, including any steps and slopes found along the route, the status of station congestion, and the locations of multi-functional restrooms. NTT supports the movement of everyone in Japan and around the world with the power of communication technology.

TECHNOLOGIES

From steps along the route to station congestion at a glanceTechnology Provides the Optimal Routes and a Sense of Safety

For wheelchair users, the biggest obstacles are steps, slopes, and stairs. Japan Walk Guide is a map app that specializes in finding barrier-free routes; it is based on NTT's information communication technology MaPiece, which instantly spots the locations and conditions of these obstacles. The app helps wheelchair users move to the venues while building up excitement before the Games instead of feeling anxious or stressful.

Beyond showing routes, it provides barrier-free information inside stations

The app contains data collected by NTT's barrier-free information collecting technology MaPiece as well as Rakuraku Odekake Net's barrier-free information and information for changing trains inside stations, thereby seamlessly offering barrier-free information from the station nearest the user to the venue.

From restrooms to first aid stations: the app also provides information on peripheral facilities for emergencies

The app shows barrier-free routes from stations to the venues as well as information about other facilities such as the locations of multi-functional restrooms and first-aid stations in and around the venues. The app helps wheelchair users access venues without stress, even accommodating spontaneous needs such as the user wanting to stop by a restroom or to take a detour.

Also offers information to avoid congestion, a major challenge for wheelchair users

For wheelchair users, congestion is a major challenge. COVID-19 has also led to increasing needs for social-distancing in order to avoid congestion. Thus, the app links into NTT Docomo's "Congestion forecast for stations," which employs demography information and AI in order to forecast the number of people entering and leaving stations during each block of time. The results are displayed on the user's smartphone in an easy-to-read graph.

Toward a Stress-Free, Universal Society

To help everyone move to the venues smoothly, NTT has conducted universal surveys to check the barrier-free status of the venue environs (including steps, the widths of alleys, restrooms, and elevators) and barrier-free routes from stations to the venues in Tokyo (Koto District) and Oita (Oita City).

Barrier-free means having no barriers.
"This is the route I usually take without thinking, but it's really hard to navigate."

In the survey, barrier-free information is recorded onto the map from the perspectives of wheelchair users and persons with visual impairments, but we have noticed that there are many things we overlook in our familiar townscapes unless we actually go out with someone who requires barrier-free access. The barrier-free map compiles information to help elderly people, those with disabilities, and those with young children to go out safely, covering the steps and slopes along routes as well as the availability of elevators and multi-functional restrooms inside various facilities. Since 2016, NTT has been compiling this barrier-free map in order to help everyone go out safely.

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Let's begin learning for tomorrow! What is communication that links everyone?

INTERVIEW

Toward a Truly Barrier-Free Society Where People Connect Heart-to-Heart

Yuma Yamazaki / Sarina Satomi

Ms. Yamazaki started playing badminton in the second grade of elementary school. When she was in her first year of high school, she was involved in a traffic accident and became a wheelchair user, losing the functions in her legs below both knees. She left badminton for some time, but resumed after watching Para-badminton during the 2013 National Sports Festival. In September 2017, at the first international para-badminton competition in Japan, HULIC DAIHATSU Japan Para-Badminton International 2017, she beat the top-ranked player, becoming the women's singles (wheelchair) champion. This past December, she won the women's singles (wheelchair) at the 3rd Daihatsu Japan Para-Badminton Championship Tournament in Japan for the third consecutive year. She belongs to class WH2.

Ms. Satomi was born in Chiba. In May 2016, when she was in her third year of high school, she was involved in a traffic accident that led to a spinal injury and left her paralyzed in both legs. In spring 2017, following her father's advice, she started playing para-badminton. In her debut match in August, she won third place in singles; in December, she won second place in singles at the Japan national championships. At the international championships in Thailand in July 2018, she paired with Japan's ace Yuma Yamazaki, and the pair won second place in women's doubles. At the August 2019 world championships, she won in singles and won third place in doubles. She belongs to class WH1.

Para-badminton has been drawing the public's attention since it has become an official sport starting with the international sports competition this summer. Yuma Yamazaki and Sarina Satomi are set to compete in para-badminton's wheelchair class. NTT had the two players experience NTT-developed Japan Walk Guide in order to ask them about the app's potential in various scenarios, including when watching sports and moving around town, and also about their lives as athletes.

Para-badminton Gave Me a New Place to Belong (Satomi)
-Yuma Yamazaki ranks third in the world (class WH2,), and Sarina Satomi ranks first in the world in singles (class WH1). You are the top players ranking first globally in doubles. What should we focus on as we watch para-badminton?

Yamazaki Para-badminton has wheelchair and standing categories, and different classes according to the severity of disability. Everyone plays differently with different strategies, but in the wheelchair class where we are, our racket work as well as chair-work, which means quickly operating the wheelchair, are the keys to victory, so please keep an eye on that. Of course, you can watch our games as you would any regular badminton games.

Satomi Doubles also has the element of rotation (pairs changing their formation according to the circumstances, such as positioning themselves side by side or behind or in front of each other), which is another fun thing to watch. We also have detailed agreements about how we should attack and defend, but those are a secret (laughter).

-How did you come across para-badminton?

Yamazaki  It was watching para-badminton in 2013 at the National Sports Festival for Persons with Disabilities, which was held alongside the National Sports Festival. I found it incredible that wheelchair athletes could play just as aggressively as in regular badminton. Rie Ogura, who was competing, also kindly asked me if I was interested in playing.

-Before you experienced the traffic accident and became a wheelchair user, you were competing in national badminton games during your time in elementary and junior high school. Did you feel confident that you could play well in para-badminton too?

Yamazaki I had been away from badminton for a while, so the first thing that crossed my mind was whether I could hit the shuttlecock with the racket. Operating the wheelchair is also hard work. I could visually see where the shuttlecock would fall, but I could not get there. While sitting down, you cannot exert enough force when you hit the shuttlecock. You are also hitting it from a low position, so you cannot really get the angle you need for a smash. The more I tried, the more I felt it was a different sport from the badminton I used to play.

-Ms. Satomi, you on the other hand played badminton as a school club activity for just three years in junior high school. Then, in the third year of high school, you experienced an accident in spring.

Satomi After I became a wheelchair user, I did not even want to go out. Then, one day my father took me to watch a para-badminton team in our neighborhood. I saw how the athletes were living independent lives through para-badminton, and I wanted to be like them. I had this feeling that, even though I had become a wheelchair user, I had a new place to belong. After that, Hiroshi Murayama, who represented the team and was an endorsed player, suggested that I join them for the international sports competition, which excited my father more than it did me (laughter). Gradually, it shifted from a hobby to competition for me.

-I would like to ask you about life and movement as a wheelchair user. Compared to the days when you had no disability, what do you find different or difficult?

Yamazaki The hardest thing is the restroom. Your activity zone is determined by the availability of wheelchair-friendly restrooms. Going to school every day, at first I could not move from the platform of my nearest station to the ticketing gates, and even at the gates, I could not go through the normal lanes. This was partly due to the way things were more than 10 years ago, and there were many hardware obstacles. However, I did not find it that difficult. I think I was accepting of the situation, like "oh, so this is how it is."

Satomi I had the same difficulties with restrooms and going places by train. But, unlike Yuma, I could not accept that. I was a high school student, so I was always comparing myself to others. It was hard for me to see photos of trips posted by my classmates on social media.

To the Audience, I Want to Communicate the Joy of Working Hard (Yamazaki)
-Japan Walk Guide, a map app for persons with disabilities, will be released as a service to help people in wheelchairs move from one place to another. It shows the locations of multi-functional restrooms, the widths of roads, and the angles of slope

Satomi I thought it was incredible! When going places, what concerns me is whether I can go into a store in a wheelchair, whether there is a wheelchair restroom, and whether I can move safely without any steep slopes or steps. The app shows all of that. You can even tell the locations of the slopes and how many steps the stairs have. It is important for us to know whether the restrooms are inside or outside the ticketing gates, and that is shown as well. Wheelchair users often go to places based on restroom availability.

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Yamazaki Yes, I relate to that. The other thing is, with regular maps, you often cannot tell how steep the slopes are, and when you actually get there, you frequently find that they are inaccessible. Knowing in advance is so much more convenient. I do not think there has ever been an app that shows the barrier-free information not just for your route but for the concourses of stations you visit.

-Behind the app's release is our desire to help wheelchair users feel safe in venturing out, and to help them challenge themselves. What do you think is required to create an environment that makes it easy for wheelchair users and persons with disabilities to take on new challenges?

Satomi This app will help us act on our own. If we encounter unexpected situations when we are outside, what then becomes important is connecting with people. In other words, a barrier-free mindset. We need the courage to call for help when we are in trouble, and non-disabled people need to not look away from people with disabilities. I know it is hard, but when people want to help, and be helped--when there is that connection--the world becomes truly friendly to everyone.

Yamazaki I became more aware of the barrier-free mindset after I became a mother. I can do most things by myself, but lately, elementary schoolchildren about the same age as my kids call out to me, asking "Shall I take that for you?" When I was young, I could not ask people for help because I was shy and felt bad asking for help, and I often said, "Thank you, but I am fine." Now, however, I want people to call out to me and others with disabilities, so I ask for help even if I am fine, or I ensure that communication will connect to subsequent actions, replying "I am fine today, but please ask me again when I look like I need help."

-When someone helps someone else successfully, it leads to further offers of help.

Yamazaki Ever since I became a mother, I have strongly felt that if I hesitate and decline help from my kids, I am taking away their opportunity to help.

-You were both impacted by disability in high school. You then entered the world of para-badminton, kept working at it, and achieved results. Is there anything you want to say to the visitors and audience from the grand stage of the international sports event this summer?

Yamazaki I want to communicate the importance of working hard. Ever since I was small, I have always felt that working hard seemed a bit uncool. But working hard is a joy. I want this event to be a chance for children to find something they can focus on in their lives going forward.

Satomi I want the Games to be a trigger for breaking down the walls between people with and without disabilities. When I was not disabled, I did not have any knowledge of people with disabilities or para-sports, but people will take more of an interest now as Japan is hosting the international sports event this time. I want this to serve as an opportunity for changing people's views of those with disabilities.

-Lastly, tell us about your resolve for the event.

Satomi I am extremely tense because this is the first big competition in two years--since November 2019. However, I have been training while visualizing the actual competition throughout the camp, so I want to trust myself and win the gold medal both in singles and doubles, becoming the first queen of para-badminton!

Yamazaki I am also tense because it is the first big event in a long time, but it being hosted in Japan is a huge advantage. With respect to playing in doubles with Sarina, we have had lots of time, which works to our advantage, as we understand each other more on our rotations and the areas each of us can and cannot cover. Individually, our skills have definitely improved as well, so we want to give great performances.

Making Transport More Liberating and More Fun

Want to feel the heat of the match at the venue? Want to visit the venue freely on your own? Japan Walk Guide has tapped every possible NTT technology to fulfill these wishes of wheelchair users. If we back up the curiosity and willpower of wheelchair users and everyone else whose range of movement has been limited, creating a society in which everyone can move from one place to another safely, the concept of movement for many of us will be transformed.

What is para-badminton?

Para-badminton has been drawing the public's attention since it will become an official sport for the first time in the international sports competition. There are two categories: "wheelchair" for wheelchair athletes, and "standing" for athletes with impairments in their upper and lower limbs as well as athletes with short statures; competition is based on classes determined according to disability severity. Special rules apply for the wheelchair category, including use of just half the court.

Generally speaking, para-badminton operates under the same rules as conventional badminton; three games are played, each to a score of 21 points. The categories are wheelchair, standing, and short-stature, which are further split into six classes according to disability severity.

Ms. Yamazaki is in class WH2, which is for wheelchair users with a light lower-limb impairment. Based on the class, a half-sized court may be used, or the playing area may be limited. The strategic attacks are fun to watch, driving opponents into hard-to-reach areas and shaking them back and forth. While wheelchair para-badminton does not involve aggressive shots like jumping smashes, the chair-work, advanced skills for fine-tuning shots, intense rallies, and mind games with opponents are intensely riveting.

Find out more about para-badminton categories and rules
Overview of the international sports competition which held this summer : badminton