Event Report: East Asia Disability Studies Forum 2015

published: 2016-03-01

East Asia Disability Studies Forum (former name: Korea Japan Disability Studies Forum) 2015 was held at the Chang Fu Gong Center in Beijing, China on November 30, 2015. This international forum has been co-hosted in Korea and Japan alternately by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi and the Disability Studies Forum in Korea (Disabled People's International Korea) since academic year 2010. It welcomed participation of the Chinese civil society in 2014 and this time it was co-hosted by organizations of the three countries for the first time.

Ms. Alessandra Aresu, the country director of Handicap International, who contributed to this forum in China, not only expressed her thanks to all participants from the three countries—researchers on disability studies and persons with disabilities but also emphasized, “It is important both to cooperate internationally and to exchange information and share experiences”. Also, Osamu Nagase, Visiting Professor of our center, who made the opening speech at this forum, talked about the China–Japan–South Korea trilateral summit which was held at the beginning of November. Prof. Nagase said, “It is good that the political leaders of the three countries finally met each other”. Then he said, “It is not true that we can meet because the political leaders can meet. I rather think we should meet when the political leaders do not meet”. Then Mr. LEE SeokGu, the chair of Disability Studies Forum, emphasized the significance and necessity of international cooperation saying, “Although it is easy to talk, it is difficult to make it come true in the society”.

Then three oral presentations (one from the Korean side and the other two from the Japanese side) concerning social service formed centrally by people with disabilities themselves were performed during the morning session. After that three oral presentations (two from the Korean side and the other from the Chinese side) and seven poster presentations (all from the Japanese side) concerning protection of interests of people with disabilities were performed during the afternoon session. Although the China Intellectual and Developmental Disability Network was supposed to perform a poster presentation after that, it was unfortunately omitted due to the progress of the forum.

The most impressive presentation during the morning session was a comparative study of the United States, Japan and Korea on CIL Services by Ms. Chiaki Kotani. Of course, situations of people with disabilities vary from country to country. For example, you can see differences in what is considered as most important service—advice to use of public subsidies (U.S.), services based on confidentiality and respect of reliable counselors (Korea), and deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities and support to their community life (Japan). However, according to the results of the analysis, there were not remarkable differences by countries and they shared a common ground that employment, empowerment and assistive technology, which tend to be considered as important to people with disabilities in the society, are not considered as important. Ms. Kotani concluded that issues of CIL are common among the three countries –they are common in the world. The common points may depend on the current position people with disabilities are placed in the history of anthropology or the position a partial society of each country is placed in human society. Then, where do differences come from and what kind of meaning do they have? I look forward to her future research.

The most impressive presentation during the afternoon session was the presentation on protection of education rights advocacy for people with visual impairment by Mr. Ni Zhen (China Vision). Mr. Zhen, who has visual impairment himself, said that studying disability studies in China where empowerment and assertion of rights have just started has three meanings—(1) knowing what kinds of social barriers a person faces (2) raising his/her voices and taking disability studies into the mainstream academic studies and (3) making himself/herself change from the subject of research to the subject who conducts research on social structure. He then talked about vivid realities including discrimination made by teachers to students at a boarding school for blind persons and a roommate issue at a dormitory—an elementary student with congenital visual impairment together with an adult with acquired visual impairment in the same room. The differences between congenital disabilities and acquired ones made me sympathize deeply as I myself is a person with acquired dyskinesia. Although there is no big difference between them in the current condition as people with disabilities, different views of disabilities and society exist between people with congenital disabilities “who can have hopes for making their living world wider and better little by little” and people with acquired ones who tend to feel unreason that they are pushed into the world of people with disabilities suddenly although they lived in the “normal” world as able people. And such differences should be an energy source for the next step. However, considering views of the able society and social power that can lead to conflict and division, I cannot feel that “we share our joy of diversity”. I felt that Mr. Zhen's presentation implies a possibility a person with congenital disability in China faces the same issue from the diverse side and a possibility that conflict and division which exist there are almost independently of country and time.

Other presentations, such as trials of independent living of people with disabilities in a rural community in China, and prejudices over persons with mental disorders and burdens to their family members in Korea were also very impressive because they have both common points and different points with the Japanese situation.

The next East Asia Disability Studies Forum whose theme is “support of independent living and necessary services” is held in Japan in academic year 2016. I truly hope that it will become an opportunity that people with disabilities, their supporters and researchers gather from all parts of East Asia, examine policies for people with disabilities and support systems and cooperate each other to improve situations of people with disabilities, disability studies research and policies for people with disabilities.

(The original report in Japanese is prepared by Ms. Yoshiko Miwa, student of the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University. It is translated into English by the Research Center for Ars Vivendi, Ritsumeikan University.)