How Robots are Helping the Disabled
Japan is famous for its technology and even more so for its robots. It seems that there is always some news about the latest advancement in robotics to come out of the Japanese research labs. But how are these advancements affecting real people in Japan? What do these robots do, and how do they help?
How are robots viewed in Japan?
First of all, I want to touch upon how Japan’s view of robots is different from many other countries. As many of you may be aware, Japan has an ageing population compared to the rest of the world. For example, in 2021, 28% of Japan’s people were over 65, compared to only 19% of the UK’s. This difference means that there is a shortage of workers for specific jobs usually filled by the young.
In many countries, immigration bolsters the workforce. However, Japan is very domestic-oriented and is not a popular choice for immigrants. This ideology weakens the argument that robots will take jobs away from hardworking people. Therefore, where western countries may reject robotics out of fear for their livelihood, Japan welcomes them as a much-needed addition to the workforce. Japanese robots are also aesthetically pleasing as they focus on cuteness and approachability, making them more accepted into day-to-day life.
Being disabled in Japan
Robots also help to combat one of the issues closest to my heart, disability. As someone with a disability, I know first-hand some of the struggles people go through that make daily life more difficult. That is why I find it so heartwarming to see technology helping the disabled community.
This movement is even more important in Japan as it’s a challenging country for the disabled. It’s not entirely that the people are inconsiderate, but rather the architecture can be old fashioned and inaccessible, with a stronger cultural reliance on walking rather than driving. Many buildings lack ramps or lifts, and the narrow streets make it difficult for wheelchair users to get around. Additionally, many traditional Japanese practices and restaurants require sitting cross-legged or kneeling at low tables. Even modern facilities such as train stations often don’t have escalators, and accessible parking spots are rare.
How do robots help?
So how are robots going to help with that? Well, one of the major ways is by allowing for remote contact. Projects such as the Dawn cafe have a fully robotic waitstaff controlled remotely by disabled employees. Having been tried and tested, it opened its first location permanently in June 2020. Not only does this give the employees an excellent employment opportunity to work from home without travel or health risks, but it can also fight loneliness.
Having a crippling disability can be incredibly lonely. People find it difficult to look past their disability, and even carers see them as patients rather than friends. The robots’ presence allows them to interact with people without the stigma of their looks and with a new freedom of movement. These robots mean that people with chronic disabilities can participate more fully in society and actively provide for themselves rather than rely on others for support, significantly benefiting mental health.
How do robots help carers?
The rise of robotics can also help those with mental disabilities. Robot carer tools and assistants are particularly helpful with elderly and mentally impaired patients.
Remote contact robots mean that carers can monitor their patients easily and talk to them even from other rooms, removing hygiene risks. Meanwhile, exoskeletons can help carers lift their patients into bed without straining them. These mechanical suits can cover everywhere but often only cover the knees, back and arms to lend support and strength to areas of strain. This support helps combat the issue of lower back problems in long-term carers.
Additionally, human carers have a low retention rate due to the stresses of the job. However, robots provide consistent and recognisable companionship for the person they care for and a flawless memory of their life to help with memory issues.
Robotic progression in Japan isn’t just some sci-fi notion with small gains. Robots are here now and are already helping people. While consideration of disabilities in Japan may have a long way to go, the rise of robotics means that the future looks bright.
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