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2000年(平成12年)3月19日(日曜日) Japan Times より転載

  Unique team wiring the disabled for work


OSAKA - A rare collaboration of the central and local governments and a nonprofit organization is promoting computer education here for the disabled.

In January, the Osaka Prefectural Government entrusted Prop Station, an Osaka-based NPO, with a two-year project to improve computer education at 25 prefectural-run ``yogo gakko,'' or schools for disabled children. The state has granted some \30 million to finance the project.

Prop Station members have already visited all the schools to grasp the nature of their computer education and will compile an assessment report by the end of this month.

During the project, which will run through the end of March 2002, Prop Station wants to gather as much information as possible on computer education both in Japan and abroad, to share it among the yogo gakko schools.

It also wants to develop computer software that is friendly to those with different disabilities and create a computer network for people teaching computer skills to the disabled.

Founded in May 1991 by Nami Takenaka, 51, whose daughter was born with physical and mental disabilities, Prop Station runs a computer network and seminars for the challenged and helps them to land jobs.

More than 350 disabled have so far attended such seminars, and 50 have done computer work -- data processing, graphics and so on -- for businesses.

Takenaka and other members of her group meanwhile found the situation at the prefecture's yogo gakko far from satisfactory.

Koji Nakauchi, a Prop Station member, said the visits to the schools convinced him of the need to improve their conditions.

``Some schools just do not have enough computers,'' said Nakauchi., who used to work at a computer company as a systems engineer. ``And even at those with enough, their computers are too old, and there is not much you can do with such computers.''

As the state's grant can be spent only on personnel costs, the group is also calling on computer makers to provide the schools with computers and other equipment.

Nakauchi, 42, who is himself in a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, said teachers are the determining factor for the computer-learning environment at yogo gakko.

``It is good to have a teacher who has enthusiasm and knowledge of computers,'' he said. ``But even if you have one, he or she will not stay forever. ''

Katano Yogo Gakko in Osaka's Katano area is fortunate to have Yoshikazu Ono on its teaching staff.

During his 12-year tenure, he has created a range of special equipment to help disabled computer users. For those with a paralyzed upper body, for instance, Ono made input equipment that is controlled with the feet.

Thanks to his enthusiasm and strenuous efforts, computer education at the school has improved over the years.

Today, the Katano school provides a computer class for four to six hours a week as an optional subject, with six high school-age students attending. Meanwhile, 10 other students are using computers in extracurricular activities.

``Personal computers can play a significant role as a communication tool for the disabled,'' Ono said. ``PCs enable those who cannot speak and those who cannot write to communicate with other people. It also gives them motivation to do other activities.''

Takenaka even contends that the ability to use computers is of greater significance to the disabled than it is to those without disabilities.

Many disabled people are able to work when they are provided with appropriate support, and many of them hope to do some kind of computer work at home, she said, explaining why she started Prop Station.

``With the population rapidly aging, we must create a society where those with ability and will to work can work in accordance with their conditions,'' she said.

Businesses, too, are beginning to see merits in working with or hiring the disabled.

In 1998, a Prop Station member who is blind found a contract-based job with a Japanese subsidiary of Microsoft Corp. to give advice in developing computer software friendly to the blind.

``By learning the needs with various disabilities, companies can predict the future needs of this fast-aging society, which is expected to see a rise in the number of challenged people,'' Takenaka said.

She hopes that the project, which the prefecture entrusted to her group, will spread to other parts of Japan.

``When we complete the work in Osaka, others can utilize our experiences,'' she said.

 養護学校を訪問した竹中さんとメンバーの中内さんは、状況の改善を訴える。「コン ピューターの数が少ないし、あっても古いものばかり」と中内さんは話す。このプロジェクトは人件費しかカバーされないため、プロップはコンピューターメーカーにパ ソコンなどの設備を譲ってくれないか呼びかけている。
 筋ジストロフィーで車椅子の中内さんは、また、情報教育の程度が教員によってずい ぶん左右される、と指摘する。「熱心な教員がいるところはいいが、それでもその人がずっとその学校にいるわけではない」
 交野養護学校は、そんな熱心な教員がいる学校だ。小野先生は自分でさまざまなパソ コン入力装置をつくった。たとえば、上半身が麻痺している生徒のためには足で操作できる装置など。交野養護学校では選択科目として週4時間から6時間、コンピューターの授業があり、6人が勉強している。その他クラブ活動として参加している生徒が10人いる。「コミュニケーションツールとしてのパソコンの役割は非常に大きい。また、他の活動への意欲も高まる」と小野先生は話す。
 竹中さんはまた、この大阪での取り組みが全国に広まることを期待している。「私た ちの経験を活かしてほしい」


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