Towards an Inclusive World Where Everyone Can Live Comfortably
On November 23, 2023, the special event titled “Dream Day at the Zoo 2023 in Adventure World" was held at the Adventure World, theme park in the Wakayama Prefecture’s Shirahama Town. The event invited children with disabilities and their families to enjoy free exclusive access to the park and its exciting attractions.
The initiative itself began in 1997 at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands, and has since become an international program called "Dreamnight at the Zoo," which invites children with disabilities and their families to enjoy the zoo after hours. Adventure World first held the event on a night-only basis in 2017, and gradually expanded its scale. From 2022, the event has been held during the day on an all-day exclusive basis, changing its name to "Dream Day at the Zoo" and saw the attendance of thousands of guests.
The system, which is linked to the digital disability certificate "Mirairo ID", was realized through a collaboration between the Mirairo Corporation, which develops and operates "Mirairo ID”, AWS CO., LTD, which operates Adventure World, the Wakayama Dream Day 2023 Executive Committee, and NEC, which promotes digital transformation through face recognition and AI. From what perspective did these companies advance this initiative, together aiming for a world where everyone can live comfortably? We interviewed representatives from these companies to hear more about their thoughts and objectives.
Eliminating the hassle of presenting disability certificates
This year marks the sixth anniversary of the popular "Dream Day at the Zoo in Adventure World”, an event so popular that tickets are only available through balloting. However, with the event continuing to grow in popularity each year, a significant problem has arisen. Confirming invitation tickets and matching disability certificates with individuals requires an excessive amount of time and effort. In the 2022 event, long queues formed, stretching back to the parking lot. Many visitors reportedly commented, "The event was enjoyable, but entering the park was difficult." The reason for these queues is due to unique issues with disability certificates.
Toshiya Kakiuchi, CEO of Mirairo, Inc., which developed the digital disability certificate "Mirairo ID," explains the background of this issue.
"Disability certificates are issued by local governments, and their formats vary. There are also three types of certificates that cover physical, mental, and intellectual disabilities. In Japan, there are currently 283 different certificates, making it difficult for those who need to verify them."
To solve this problem, the app "Mirairo ID," which allows disability certificates to be presented via smartphone, was integrated with NEC's face recognition technology. In this trial, a system was built which allowed eligibility checks to be conducted in advance. By registering a facial photo beforehand, same-day identity verification can be completed simply by authenticating one's face via a tablet at the reception desk. Mr. Kakiuchi of Mirairo Inc. expressed high hopes for this new system, saying, "Mirairo ID has unified 283 types of disability certificates into a single one, and face recognition goes further to streamline that verification to a “zero” in inconvenience."
From the start, face recognition is highly compatible with a wide variety of use cases because it allows hands-free authentication just by facing the camera. It allows a seamless and frictionless entry for wheelchair users as they can simply authenticate their identities without taking their hands from their wheelchair. At the Adventure World venue, half of the entrance gates were equipped with face recognition systems, and half with conventional certificate checks.
As the opening time arrived and staff guided the guests, many visitors headed for the entrance all at once. The number of users who used the face recognition-based systems was higher than expected, roughly 30% of visitors opted for the face recognition gates.
As guests' faces were successfully authenticated on the tablets, there were smiles all around, with people exclaiming, "Amazing!" and "It's the future!". The entrance procedure was much smoother overall, and the queues that had inconvenienced visitors in previous years had virtually disappeared.
All it took was a smile to enter the admission gates and children were fascinated by the technology. As the system also provided entertainment value, authentication progressed without the need for special guidance. Some parents of children with hyperactive traits commented, "Normally, we would have to be careful that our child doesn't wander off during the admission process, but since it was so smooth, we didn't have to worry about that." The demonstration proved to be unexpectedly fruitful, yielding many benefits.
The concept of "barrier value": Turning barriers (disabilities) into value
The collaboration between the two companies stems from the concept of "Barrier Value" proposed by Kakiuchi, which aims to turn barriers (disabilities) into value.
"Barrier Value is the idea of neither removing or overcoming disabilities, but rather turning people’s perspectives, experiences, and sensitivities into value. I use a wheelchair due to a bone disease, and there was a time when I could not come to terms with my situation. However, now I am trying to turn it into new value. I realize now that my experiences hold the possibility to create new value for the world. Barrier-free initiatives have historically been driven by the advocacy of disabled people's rights. But that alone will not make them last or spread. The goal of Barrier Value is to create new value and transform it into a positive thing, without imposing it on others."
On April 1st, 2024, the amended Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities will come into effect in Japan, making it mandatory for private businesses to provide reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations involve responding to the needs of people with disabilities within a manageable scope when they express a desire to remove barriers. The concept of Barrier Value can also serve as a guideline for considering such accommodations.
Kakiuchi explains: "Implementing barrier-free environments inevitably incurs costs for companies and requires additional labor. That is why it is necessary to make it easier and less burdensome for companies to accommodate people with disabilities. In other words, it's best if they can embrace this as a business opportunity by finding value in these accommodations and expanding the market."
Only when it is pursued as a business with economic viability, in addition to its social significance, can it become a sustainable activity and eliminate the remaining societal barriers. This concept of "Barrier Value" has united and accelerated collaboration between NEC and Mirairo Inc,.
Dream Day realized by overcoming economic barriers
AWS CO., LTD, which manages Adventure World, is a company that has long been committed to diversity and inclusion and resonates with the idea of Barrier Value. In 2015, they established a new corporate philosophy, aiming to become a "Company of Smiles Creating Heartfelt Moments" and promoted purpose-driven management. The "Dream Day at the Zoo" event was born as part of these efforts. Beginning in 2017, the event has grown in scale each year. The decision to switch from the "Dreamnight" held during night time to the "Dream Day" held on a holiday reserved for the event was a major one. Representative Director and President Masashi Yamamoto explains:
"There were project members who wanted to hold the event not only at night or on weekdays, but also on weekends and holidays. Holding the event on weekdays would require visitors to take time off from school or work. However, holding the event on a holiday would result in the loss of a day’s revenue gained from an average of 3,000 visitors.
Nevertheless, Adventure World proceeded with holding the event on a holiday, and this year marks its third year doing so. How were they able to advance this initiative? When asked about the business value in organizing this event, Mr. Yamamoto said:
"Since the event was held on a holiday, we started recruiting sponsorship partners and volunteer partners, and changed the hosting system from relying solely on our company to a co-creation with external partners through an executive committee. We believed that it would be worthwhile if we could foster new relationships. When implementing such initiatives, a partial increase in costs is somewhat inevitable. However, it is important to communicate the value externally. By doing so, we can gain the understanding of our customers, and most importantly, our partners will continue to increase. This has been the most significant business impact for me. As we work on SDGs and diversity & inclusion, we naturally attract like-minded people. If we face difficulties, our partners will help us, and vice versa, we will also get involved in our partners' actions, leading to the birth of new businesses. I believe that is the most positive economic effect."
Even if an initiative may not be profitable in the short term, it can be sustained if a mechanism can be created to minimize losses as much as possible. Moreover, if a partnership can be built there, it can become a new value that can accelerate the business.
Societal change through co-creation beyond work and organizational boundaries
The introduction of face recognition gates in this event was prompted by an idea from NEC employees working in the field. Takatoshi Osu, Assistant Manager of the Digital ID Business Development Department, which promotes biometric authentication businesses, said:
"When I went to a training session in Nanki-Shirahama where NEC is conducting face recognition proof of concepts, I was impressed to learn about Adventure World's 'Dream Day at the Zoo' initiative. It was then that I realized I had been considering the promotion of face recognition with only non-disabled people in mind. When I expanded my perspective, I thought that our technology could benefit those who usually face difficulties when presenting their disability certificates."
There is a high level of interest in addressing social issues within the company. By bridging the gap between barriers and opportunities, we allow the differently abled to contribute in their own ways – creating "barrier value", as was mentioned earlier. Naturally, collaborators from different departments gathered as one for the 'Barrier Value Creation' project, garnering strong support from our partners, in order to realize a barrier-free society.
"Realizing a barrier-free society is an endeavor on the scale of renewing social infrastructure. That's why we don't think for a moment that NEC can solve this issue alone. We would like to deepen our collaboration with various stakeholders who empathize with our activities and continually increase our new partners."
As demonstrated by the successful collaboration between Mirairo ID and face recognition technology, new digital technologies can be an innovation that easily overcomes barriers that existed previously. In addition to the advancement of technology, the partnership of businesses with diverse assets may create waves that can ultimately transform the entire system and infrastructure of an inclusive society into a world where everyone can live comfortably.
February 13, 2024