//You can make fun of handicapped people.

You can make fun of handicapped people.

Specified Nonprofit Corporation Mainstream Association
Mr. Mitsuki Hayashi
Phnom Penh Center for Independent Living
Executive Director Mr. MEY SAMITH

– First, can you tell us about your physical disability?

I got this physical disability called acroparalysis after I got a cervical spine injury at the age of 17.

– How did you accept the reality when you suddenly became a handicapped person?

I am a very stupid and positive person. I felt down for about 3 days after the accident indeed. There are situations on some TV dramas in which a doctor seriously tells a patient “You’ll never be able to walk on your feet again.” I didn’t actually have that kind of sentence from the doctor directly, but when I was hitting on a nurse in the hospital, inviting her to a BBQ restaurant after I leave the hospital, she naturally said “Ok, you can go anywhere on a wheelchair nowadays” and I was like “What?”. I had never imagined that I wouldn’t be able to walk on my feet again, and I had never thought of being on a wheelchair for my whole lifetime either, so I burst into tears right after I heard that. I should have realized that I won’t be able to walk again at the moment.
I was really depressed for about 3 days after that, and my mother and my grand mother were crying everyday. However, I didn’t think I should also be crying and I thought I should rather live positively. Therefore, after 3 days, I was even telling the nurse to find a BBQ restaurant where I can go on a wheel chair.
Now I work for an organization of handicapped people that supports handicapped people to be independent, and I’ve met a lot of handicapped people there, and not everybody of them had thoughts towards life like me. There were handicapped people who were just depressed all the time like the ordinary people would imagine. Some of them were embarrassed to go outside.

– Some people might treat you gingerly sometimes. Do you not really care about it as well?

My job now is to change the view of society on handicapped people. I think that people would feel sorry for handicapped people. I’ve actually thought about how I had thought about handicapped people before I became one of them. I was actually bullying a handicapped person in junior high school. I didn’t bully handicapped people anymore after I entered high school, and I wouldn’t have any views on handicapped people at all after that. I’d not think anything about them. Neither good images nor bad ones. Just like, when a handicapped person got on a train that I was on, I’d not feel great, and that was all I was feeling about handicapped people.
Then, when I became a handicapped person, I thought that people might be feeling sorry for me, and I wondered how people started thinking of handicapped people like that. It shouldn’t be everything, but they’re certainly should be some influences from the media.
For example, some handicapped people climb mountains on a segment on TV shows like “24-hour broadcasting show”. People who watch it will definitely be touched because the media shows just one side of handicapped people like that to touch people, showing how they are trying hard. However, there are some handicapped people who are actually stupid like me, and there are some handicapped people who are very smart and clever, but the media shows only a certain side of us, which makes normal people feel sorry for us for being handicapped. I think that the media should rather show the reality of all the handicapped people including some stupid ones like me equally, which will make people think that handicapped people are the same as non-handicapped people.
I’d not like to climb a mountain at all but rather go to play slot machines. There are handicapped people like me. Of course, there are many types of handicapped people, but the media always tries to show that all the handicapped people are trying hard and tries to make it a beautiful story, but I wouldn’t try that hard all the time. I want to sleep a lot on my day off. I like girls and want to have sex, too. It’s a matter of course.

Tuk-Tuk for wheelchairs

– However, there are very few handicapped people who have the thoughts like yours, I suppose?

I don’t think so. Most handicapped people would start thinking things optimistically like me quickly after they become handicapped.
When a person becomes handicapped, and if he has to become pessimistic, I think it’s a fault of society.
If he can live the same as non-handicapped people, he’d not need to be pessimistic.
But actually, the society of today is not appropriate for handicapped people because it has been created basically for non-handicapped people.
I’m getting off track, but my grandmother still applies ointment to my legs expecting that they’ll be healed. I always tell her that it doesn’t heal my legs, though. That means even my grandmother wants my legs to be healed. However, I believe that there are things that only handicapped people can do, like supporting handicapped people to be independent, changing the view on handicapped people by non-handicapped people, or making an impassioned plea to the government for more accessibilities. It’s all for handicapped people, so handicapped people have to work on it, not non-handicapped people.
What I want to say is that if there’s a medicine that heals all my disabilities, I’d not go for it. I enjoy my life now. Exaggeratedly speaking, I’d rather say that I’m happy to have become handicapped.
It’s hard to explain, but I don’t always think that I want to be handicapped because it’s actually tough to be so. It’s even difficult to spend a usual daily life for me as a ‘handicapped person. Then, Why I wouldn’t take the medicine which can heal my disabilities is because my job is very worthwhile and fulfilling. It’s a very interesting job as well. I’m very serious about my goal to change society, which is a very big and stupid goal to beat, but I believe that I can make it come true. To be more specific, I’ve been having a caregiver, and without him, I can’t even get on my bed, bathe or cook. And sometimes I talked to him about my job, then he occasionally agreed with my thoughts. That was a usual thing, but he sometimes even said that he’d like to work with me. Actually, he decided to join our organization to work with us to change society to make it better for handicapped people. It’s hard to change a person’s view towards handicapped people, but when I make it, I find it very fulfilling and feel that we got another person with the same thought as ours. It’s just a little step, but society should be changed little by little like this, and when I felt it, I found it very interesting and meaningful.

– Are handicapped people in Japan and Cambodia the same?

As I feel, that Japan is a better country for handicapped people in terms of accessibility. However, the internal barriers toward handicapped people are much lower in Cambodia, I guess. When I go to shops here in Cambodia, they try to rip me off, no matter whether I’m handicapped or not. They don’t feel sorry for handicapped people. However, if it’s in Japan, even at shops that always rip people off, if a customer is handicapped, they’d avoid ripping him off because he’s handicapped. But it doesn’t matter here in Cambodia. If I say it in a better way, people don’t have the inner barriers toward handicapped people in Cambodia. If I say “help me” in front of the stairs, people will gather around me for help. Of course, it happens in Japan as well, but Cambodian people would do so more willingly than I feel.

– So, do you think you can be franker with Cambodian people than Japanese people?

I think so. However, I don’t think I can live in this country. That is because I have a caregiver and the Japanese government pays him. However, Cambodia doesn’t have such a system. Not only to have caregivers, but also about wheelchairs. In Japan, when handicapped people need customized wheelchairs for them, the government pays for them. However, here in Cambodia, the government pays a handicapped person $5 a month and that’s it. What can they do with only $5 a month?
Therefore, poor handicapped people have to rely on their parents. Then if their parents are poor, too, there’s nothing they can do about it, which is the reality of this country.
I’ve stayed in the countryside in Cambodia, and they’re always is a chance that a handicapped person is born in the countryside or anywhere, so it’s sad to imagine that a handicapped person could just in a bed for whole his life to wait to die with no help from the country just because he was born in Cambodia, not in Japan.

Cambodian people think that it’s their own problem to have disabilities, that’s why they think that they have to solve the problems by themselves. However, if they start thinking that it’s an issue of the country, the society would be changed with new systems which are for handicapped people.
People just think that accessibility is only for handicapped people, but if it’s put into practice, there’ll be many people who’ll appreciate it like pregnant women or people with baby carriages.
Everybody has the possibility to become handicapped. You could have an accident to become handicapped on the way home later, and if you become handicapped and if it’s the end of life, that’s ridiculous, isn’t it?
That’s why accessibility is needed in this country.

– If I become friends with a handicapped person, can I talk to him and treat him the same as non-handicapped people?

My hands are just like Doraemon’s (Doraemon is a Japanese popular character of a cat) and they don’t move at all, but you could laugh at it saying it’s just like Doraemon’s. I don’t care. You can make fun of handicapped people. It depends on each person, but that’s the same as non-handicapped people. Some people get angry if you make fun of him for having thin hair, but some people don’t. You can ask a person with a speech disorder to speak more slowly because you don’t get what he is saying, but it is not good to say that you’ve given up on it because you don’t get what he is saying.
It becomes discrimination when you think you can’t make fun of handicapped people. People sometimes make fun of people wearing big eyeglasses. Then why can’t people do it to people in wheelchairs? It’s the same thing. People use eyeglasses because it makes their living more comfortable as the same as wheelchairs.

Is there anything that you want to ask non-handicapped people for?

– For now, It’d be appreciated if they could think about handicapped people even just a little bit.
Handicapped people want to do what they want to do, and handicapped people love somebody the same as non-handicapped. I just want non-handicapped people to know this fact and if they do it, society will change somehow.
However, there needs some chance to start thinking about handicapped people if there are non of them around, I think.
That’s why I want all the handicapped people to hit the streets. Go out and hang out just like non-handicapped people.
I think it’s my job to do so to change society. At that point, the handicapped people in Cambodia hit the streets in an environment that is not as good as Japan’s for them to change the society, so I respect them.

– What does motivate handicapped people in Cambodia?

I try hard to make this country as developed as Japan. People and companies in Cambodia don’t really do works which don’t make them profit so that it’s hard to change this society. However, I came to know that Japan has developed a lot in terms of accessibility thanks to the efforts of a lot of handicapped people by themselves. That’s why I started this activity to support handicapped people to be independent to develop this country for handicapped people. However, Cambodia is a poor country not like Japan, so when we try to start something new, people think about needing money first, and it just gets rejected because there is not enough money for it. But if we don’t it today, we can’t change it tomorrow. I have many comrades in many countries, so I’m not alone here. That’s why I can work hard here.
When I’m really in a tough situation, I go to Japan to charge myself.

– Have you produced any results since you established this organization 9 years ago?

We haven’t got a great achievement yet, but there certainly are some results of our activities. There is more accessibility in airports and gas stations and there are more balusters in public facilities like ward offices than before.
And above all, I’ve got more comrades who try hard together for the same goal, and I started going out more and more. I think it’s the biggest achievement for me.