Valid safety concern or unjust discrimination?

In August of this year, a man in his 50s attended the regularly held France Exhibition, which includes a wine tasting event, at the Seibu Department Store in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro neighborhood. When he arrived, he was using a manual wheelchair and paid 2,000 yen (US$18) for two glasses of wine.

However, as he was drinking his second glass, a staff member handed him a paper and explained that it was for visitors in wheelchairs and electric wheelchairs. The paper requested that he stop drinking because of his mobility device, but since the man wasn’t drunk, he refused to comply with the request.

However, since the event was controlling the flow of wine, there wasn’t much the man could do about it. So, he eventually went home and filed a lawsuit in Tokyo District Court to the tune of 1.7 million yen ($15,000) for unfair discrimination.

Seibu is not backing down either, claiming that their decision was based on concerns over the safety of staff and other guests. In their argument, they cited an incident that occurred when the event was first held two years ago. Seibu says that a guest who was in a wheelchair drank too much and began running into peoples legs and feet, so they decided to prohibit it.

Netizens’ opinions on the matter seem to fall all over the place.

“It’s essentially a car.”
“Even if people can stand, they’re capable of the same problems.”
“I’m not sure who I agree with, but it seems Seibu is overreacting to the previous incident.”
“It’s like riding a bicycle, and you can’t do that drunk.”
“All those people at the event are afraid of a scary disabled person?”
“Even if Seibu is in the right, going up against differently abled people is not a good business move.”
“I can see the possibility of discrimination, but $1.7 mil?! That’s making me believe the guy less.”
“If that guy had gotten injured and banged up a lot of other customers, Seibu would have been on the line for a lot more money.”
“Wheelchairs are dangerous pieces of equipment, so unfortunately they have to be operated with care.”
“Seibu shouldn’t have taken his money in the first place.”

It should be noted that a similar incident occurred earlier this year when a group of deaf people visited the Legoland Discovery Center in Tokyo and were refused entry over safety concerns that they couldn’t hear the emergency alarms. In the end, the court ruled in favor of the visitors claiming the prohibition was a violation of the Act for Eliminating Discrimination Against People with Disabilities.

However, the National Police Agency’s guidelines for electric wheelchair usage does prohibit controlling one while intoxicated. This particular man wasn’t using an electric chair, but this regulation may help give Seibu a leg to stand on in court.

While the court of public opinion is still deliberating the issue, it’ll be up to the Tokyo District Court to determine whether this is a matter of safety or unlawful discrimination. Opening arguments began on 21 November, so it will be a little longer before we hear a ruling.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun, Hamusoku
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