World Blind Union- International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment Joint Assembly 2016

Florida, U.S.A.

It is a great honor to be invited to this Joint Assembly of the World Blind Union and International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairment, or ICEVI. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Lord Low, Mr. Holte, and the organizers for giving me this opportunity to address you.

I understand that over the next few days, the World Blind Union and ICEVI will be sharing individual experiences and discussing a number of important issues. On my part, I appreciate this opportunity to be able to introduce to you our activities at The Nippon Foundation.

The Nippon Foundation, of which I am chairman, is a private, nonprofit organization in Japan. We have been active for over fifty years now, not only in Japan, but also internationally.

Our vision is to achieve an inclusive society where everyone embraces diversity and able to play an active role. In order to realize this vision, we carry out a number of different projects. In developing countries, many children and youth are not able to receive an appropriate education for a number of different reasons. Disability is one of these reasons. Our goal has been to provide such young people with access to education.

The Nippon Foundation’s educational support for blind and partially sighted people began in the 1980s when we established a fund at the Overbrook School for the Blind in the United States. It was through this fund that we started working with Dr. Larry Campbell, who is a strong advocate for the importance of higher education and training for blind people.

At the time, educational support for them tended to emphasize primary and secondary education rather than higher education, especially in the developing countries of Southeast Asia.

Working with Larry over the years, in our discussions, we agreed that the time had come to support higher education. This was the beginning of our “Higher Education project” with ICEVI in the late 1990s.

This joint project has been providing access to higher education for blind and partially sighted people in six countries in the ASEAN region. It has enabled more than 1,500 students to study at institutions of higher education.

Let me describe how these projects take place. We help universities to better grasp the needs of blind and partially sighted students. We also advise them on how to make necessary changes that will accommodate their needs. Specifically, we recommend certain considerations that help blind students in taking entrance examinations, as well as support them so that they can concentrate in their studies.

In this, it is important to gain the understanding of the faculty. As for the students, they must be equipped with the necessary skills to fully participate in their classes. With this in mind, we set up support centers in this project that offer the necessary workshops and training for both faculty and students. Students and faculty are welcome to stop by for advice.

In recent years, we have also been focusing on career development support to help students shape their lives after graduation. ICEVI has increased its efforts in this area. We are pleased to hear that many of our graduates have found employment.

In some countries, we work with the ministry of education to encourage enrollment of blind students in higher education. These activities have been successful, and both enrollment and employment rates have improved significantly.

This is thanks to the support of their teachers and family, and also because of the strong motivation of the students who believed in their own potential.

We started these projects with the hope of making a difference in the lives and future of blind and partially sighted people, and we are happy to see that this is happening.

In the afternoon workshop today, those who took part in these projects from five countries, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, and Japan, will share their stories. We could say they are role models who instill confidence in young people and inspire them to fulfill their potential and achieve their goals.

I have talked about the higher education project undertaken by ICEVI and The Nippon Foundation, but allow me now to talk about the work of The Nippon Foundation concerning the lives of disabled people.

You may still remember the Great East Japan Earthquake and the tsunami that struck Japan five years ago. The disaster claimed many precious lives, but sadly, according to a study conducted after the earthquake, the mortality rate of people with disabilities was nearly double that of the general population. One of the reasons is that they had not been included in the planning and implementation process of disaster risk reduction in their communities.

In 2015, the United Nations 3rd World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction was held in Sendai, Japan, a major city devastated by the earthquake. I strongly felt the need for disabled people to participate in this conference. This is because it is extremely important that disaster risk reduction and management incorporate the perspective of disabled people.

In the past, they could not participate in UN conferences on this issue of disaster risk reduction, or DRR, as important stakeholders. In the wake of this disaster, I proposed to the United Nations that disabled people be given a voice in discussions on disaster risk reduction. On the occasion of the Sendai Conference we, The Nippon Foundation provided support to facilitate their participation by ensuring accessibility for blind and deaf individuals and for wheelchair users.

The result was epoch-making—we saw many disabled people actively take part and assume important roles in the conference.

I believe it is important for them to make their voices heard in policy making, and to communicate their individual and specific needs. This will be one step toward realizing a more inclusive society.

Today, I look forward to lively discussions at the sessions and workshops of this joint assembly, and to learning more about your activities.

Once again, let me express my gratitude to Lord Low and Mr. Holte for this wonderful opportunity to be with you today. I would also like to thank Larry for our long-standing friendship, and all who have participated in our project.