Monday, July 2, 2018

"Tokyo Legoland Discovery Center apologizes for blocking deaf patrons from theme park"

Image borrowed from unfspinnaker.com.

Story from Japan Today, 7/2/18:

With eight flagship parks worldwide, Legoland is one of the top pit stops on any budding architect’s childhood wish list. Japan sports its own main Legoland in Nagoya, but there are also indoor editions of the park: “Discovery Centers”, which you can visit in Tokyo or Osaka. The park is studded with architectural attractions: there’s multiple rides, visitors can design, build and race their own Lego cars, and even leap and bound through ninja-tastic Lego backdrops.

For Niigata-based teacher Tsuyoshi Abe, who is deaf, it was the perfect place to take his son and daughter for a day out. However, he reached an unexpected blockade when he, his two children and a family friend tried to enter the park on April 21 of this year. The employee staffing the entrance called the four of them back, demanding to know if any of them could hear. Mr Abe was then informed in writing that theme park policy requires any disabled guests to have at least one accompanying, able-bodied support guest. As all four of Mr Abe’s party couldn’t hear, the staff explained, they were unable to grant them access to the park.

According to the policy written on Legoland Discovery Center Tokyo’s website, the reason they don’t permit entry is because without an accompanying guest and all-deaf party wouldn’t be able to hear the disaster alarms and so the park would not be able to guarantee their safety.

While this would be upsetting enough for anyone in this situation (the man’s children reportedly asked why all the other children could play inside when they couldn’t), Mr Abe was very qualified to tackle this injustice directly. As a teacher for the deaf, and a representative for children’s support groups at his school, he took it upon himself to reach out to the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, who took the issue straight to the government.

Thankfully this story has a happy ending: the courts found that refusing a disabled customer access to a store, park or service without a helper violates the Act for Eliminating Discrimination Against People with Disabilities. June 13 saw the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry formally request the company to “work hard to better understand the law and implement changes accordingly”. A formal apology from Merlin Japan Entertainment representative Peter Lee followed, so hopefully from here on out parents and children will be able to attend the park without any issues.


Click here for the apology ("We apologize for the inconvenience and inappropriate response to customers with disabilities") in Japanese.

This issue has become a hot topic on the net, with users wondering “why couldn’t a member of staff just accompany the family?” and pointing out “surely you don’t need to be able to hear to notice a disaster: if everyone around you is running, then you run too – it’s not like the park is even that big.” Many users noted that as the party were able to come to the park in the first place, there should have been no problem with them navigating the park alone.

Of course, as with any controversial topic there were people arguing the opposite as well: “Why should the company have to apologize just for guaranteeing people’s safety? This is just a modern day witch hunt.” Multiple users considered the issue of responsibility – “if something bad were to be happen, would the family take responsibility or would they push blame onto the people who permitted them, I wonder?”

Considering the rough and rocky start to business the main Legoland park has endured, you would think that the park would be eager to get as many guests through the doors as possible.


Source: https://japantoday.com/category/national/tokyo-legoland-discovery-center-apologizes-for-blocking-deaf-patrons-from-theme-park

I'm not sure this story has a happy ending. The company was chastised for breaking the law. No real penalties. And they still don't seem to get it. Check out the claims that still remain on their web sites:

FAQs: IS THE CENTRE SUITABLE FOR VISITORS WITH DISABILITIES / WHEELCHAIR USERS?
Yes, we are fully accessible for visitors with disabilities and wheelchair users.


GUESTS WITH DISABILITIES
The center has been designed with your needs in mind. We review our risk assessments and policies annually to ensure we remain as accessible as possible to all guests, including wheelchair access.


ACTIVITY JAPAN
Provided by:​ ​​ ​LEGOLAND Discovery Center Tokyo
【To people with disabilities】 We will guide you at the entrance to the facility by elevator. The aisle is flat (partially sloped) and barrier-free. Attention in the facility may require attention when using it. Please confirm before visiting for details.


They didn't and still don't seem to understand that barrier-free is not limited to structural barriers. Barrier-free also strives to improve accessibility in terms of communication barriers. Why can't there be visual emergency alarms (flashing lights, video screens)? Or pagers of some sort? (A hospital I visit has pagers that are given to everyone to help guide them in terms of when and where to go - they are equipped with ringing and vibrating alarms.) Ideally there should be a sign language interpreter available (like at Disneyland and USJ).

Many amusement parks and tourist attractions in Japan have discounts for disabled people. Legoland doesn't have such a discount per se but disabled people are admitted free as long as they are accompanied by an able-bodied family member/friend/caretaker. A little paternalistic, I think... Legoland also has a rule that "Adults must be accompanied by a child to visit." Usually such a rule is the other way around. I guess Legoland is looking out not only for the perceived safety of disabled people but children as well (no perverts or otaku allowed...). Legos are so cool and so much fun. Why do corporations have to take away from the coolness/fun?