The Daily Manila Shimbun


Man takes to skies in wheelchair paragliding to send message

May 17, 2017

NANYO, YAMAGATA PREF.- Bound to a wheelchair because of muscular dystrophy, Kenichi Kato refuses to limit his engagement with society as he believes he has a role to play as an individual with disabilities.
His way of directing public attention to the need for a barrier-free society is unorthodox. Using a specially modified wheelchair, the 36-year-old from Nanyo in Yamagata Prefecture, northeastern Japan, takes to the skies with a paraglider.
"If you take a step forward, there are many things that you can accomplish," said Kato, who has made over 10 paragliding tandem flights with support from instructors.
At the age of 21, Kato, then an automobile mechanic, developed muscular dystrophy, a severe muscle degenerative disease.
Six years later, he was forced to use a wheelchair to get about, and gradually became a recluse.
Instead of simply waiting to lose his physical ability entirely, he decided to put his experiences to use in order to improve society. In 2014, he launched a campaign to raise awareness of an environment free of barriers.
Kato now serves as head of a Nanyo-based incorporated association promoting barrier-free tourism.
With his hometown known for an airfield that is used by paragliders, he was accustomed to seeing paragliders in the sky when he was child.
Believing that wheelchair paragliding would send a strong message, he visited Nanyo Skypark in September 2015 to discuss his project with paragliding instructor Makoto Kanai, 54.
Surprised at first, Kanai decided Kato was serious about paragliding. "I thought I have to figure out a way (to help him)," Kanai said.
Kanai ordered a special wheelchair for paragliding. Initially, it proved unstable in tests. However, after some modifications, such as a change in the angle of the front wheels, the wheelchair was ready to fly. (Jiji Press)