February 28, 2006

Hotel Chain Admits To Removing Accessibility Features After Inspections

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

TOKYO -- A public scandal has been building in the past couple of weeks over the revelation that a major Japanese budget hotel chain violated building codes by remodeling their facilities and removed accessibility features -- after they had passed government inspections.

The Asahi Shimbun news service reported last month that some hotels operated by Toyoko Inn Co. had illegally removed parking spaces reserved for motorists with disabilities, and altered rooms originally designed to be accessible.

In one Yokohama hotel, for example, the number of designated parking spaces was reduced from the required seven to just two to make way for a lobby expansion -- just weeks after the building had passed its inspection. One room designed to be accessible to guests with disabilities was reportedly converted into a linen closet.

In a hotel in Himeji, wheelchair access signs had been removed, along with raised yellow tiles designed to alert blind visitors to safety hazards.

It was later revealed that Toyoko had planned for the changes long before the inspections took place: Blueprints were drawn up before construction with the post-inspection changes already in the original designs.

The Asahi Shimbun also reported that company president Norimasa Nishida personally approved the changes, even though he knew they were illegal.

Nishida apologized at a January 27 news conference.

"I thought it was OK. It was like driving 67 or 68 kph on a road that had a speed limit of 60 kph," Nishida said.

"I never imagined things would get so serious," he added. "I mean, we only get one or two disabled people a year."

The Japanese government followed up last Monday with an announcement that it had discovered that 60 of the 122 budget hotels operated by Toyoko are violating the federal Building Standards Law and a 2003 law requiring public facilities to be barrier-free.

According to Kyodo News, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said the company had modified 77 of its hotels after they had passed government inspections.

"Toyoko Inn hotels removed facilities for disabled" (Kyodo News)

Editorial "Illegal remodeling" (Asahi Shimbun)

"Sharp practice lies behind hotel scandal" (Daily Yomiuri)

"Building scandals expose society's uncaring foundation" (Japan Times)

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Posted on February 28, 2006