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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Between Equality and Difference: The Politics of Disability in Japan

October 27, 1998 / 18.30

Katharina Heyer

In Japan, as in most countries, disability is heavily stigmatized and surrounded by a culture intolerant of embodied difference. A growing disability movement is now subverting the quote;medicalquote; model which focuses on cures, treatment, and rehabilitation for what are considered ailments and abnormalities, toward one of positive identity, dignity, and pride. An emerging political model analyzes disability as a social construction and sees people with disabilities as a political group with a history of discrimination. It questions common interpretations of disability as physical inferiority, recasting it instead in another form of embodied difference, which, like race and gender, has traditionally been interpreted as inferior. Rights language and equality theories play a central role in disability movements, particularly in demands for equal access to education and employment. This presentation will analyze the role of the equality principle in Japanese disability legislation and the Japanese disability movement. It will chart the development of legislation aimed to integrate disabled Japanese into the workplace and draw the parallels to previous attempts to legislate equal employment opportunities for women.

Katharina HEYER is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Universityof Hawaii at Manoa and currently a Research Fellow at the German Institute for Japanese Studies.