Tokyo robot cafe offers new spin on disability inclusion
- 'A part of society' -But the robots are largely a medium through which workers can communicate with customers. "I talk to our customers about many subjects, including the weather, my hometown and my health condition," said Imai, who has a somatic symptom disorder that makes leaving home difficult. "As long as I'm alive, I want to give something back to the community by working. I feel happy if I can be a part of society." Other operators have a range of different abilities, including some Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patients who use eye movements on a special digital panel to send signals to the robots. The project is the brainchild of Kentaro Yoshifuji, an entrepreneur who co-founded the company Ory Laboratory that makes the robots. After suffering a bout of bad health as a child that left him unable to go school, he began thinking about ways to bring people into the workforce even if they can't leave home.
- Work to do on inclusion -The cafe's launch comes with the Paralympics due to open on August 24 and disability advocates debating Japan's progress on inclusion and accessibility. Since Tokyo won the bid to host the Games in 2013 it has touted efforts to make public facilities more accessible. But support for inclusion remains limited, said Seiji Watanabe, head of a non-profit organisation in central Japan's Aichi that supports employment for people with disabilities. In March, the government revised regulations to edge up the minimum ratio of disabled workers at a company from 2.2 percent to 2.3 percent. "The level is too low," Watanabe told AFP. "And Japanese companies don't have a culture of hiring diverse human resources on their own initiative." At Dawn, Mamoru Fukaya said he and his 17-year-old son were enjoying the cafe on a lunchtime visit. "(The pilot) was very friendly," the 59-year-old said. "Since he said he can't work outside his home, it's great that there's this kind of chance." Yoshifuji is focused on the cafe project now, but thinks robots could one day even make the Paralympics more inclusive. "There's a possibility that a kind of new Paralympics for those who are bedridden can be created," he said. "We could even create new sports. That might be interesting."
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