COMPANIES IN JAPAN have a track record of ensuring that employees with disabilities have equal opportunities.
Skilled, talented and thriving in their workplaces, these people bring the added benefit of being able to provide unique and diverse perspectives on a company's products or services.
In addition, advances in technology are supporting the integration of more employees with physical and mental challenges into many workplaces.
MIZUUCHI Sachiyo is deaf and thriving in the Intellectual Property Department of cosmetics giant Kao Corp.
“I applied to Kao after I discovered that the company is actively looking to hire people with disabilities. If there is something that I cannot do because of my disability, then there is always support available from other staff.”
That fits neatly with the “Kao Way”, which emphasizes respect for diversity, said MIZUUCHI. At the initiative of hearing-impaired staff, Kao’s education support program has extended its hand-washing campaign to specialist schools for deaf pupils.
I think this was possible because Kao sincerely
listened to our voices.
KURITA Mitsuharu says his sole motivation after leaving university was “to work where I could make the most of my skills.” That has resulted in a career at Sony Corp., where he conducts research and development into artificial intelligence-based video analysis systems.
And being in a wheelchair has proved no handicap to his professional achievements. “I have always believed that efforts to increase what I can do will make my life richer,” he said.
Before KURITA joined Sony, he was concerned about his career progression and the design of company facilities to meet the needs of people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. Reassured that nothing would stand in his way at Sony, KURITA is making the most of the firm’s career development scheme and refining new skills.
Along with a number of other Japanese firms, Sony is an enthusiastic participant in The Valuable 500, a global movement set up to encourage companies to tap into the potential of 1.3 billion disabled people around the world.
Sony employs more than 900 people with physical challenges, providing the company with alternative opinions on its products and services.
People with disabilities have diverse perspectives and ideas as a result of their backgrounds and experiences. By hiring them, Sony can have a positive impact on society as a whole.
MURATA Nozomi does not leave her Tokyo home to go to work, but an ingenious approach to disabled people in the workplace by OryLab Inc. enables her to, in her words, “participate in society.”
Diagnosed with myopathy in her early 20s, MURATA is now secretary to OryLab CEO YOSHIFUJI Kentaro. The company creates technology to help disabled people obtain work. OryLab provides an “OriHime” robot that serves as the user’s physical presence in a workplace, with the operator able to work remotely.
“I work from home but feel like I’m in the office thanks to OriHime and on some days, OriHime will accompany the CEO to a speech or lecture - so I can enjoy a short trip just like any abled-person does.” MURATA said.
“Being able to do this gives me a sense that I am able to participate in society but it also gives me fulfillment that through this technology, I can put the knowledge and skills that only I have to use.”
Ever since being diagnosed with distal myopathy, ODA Yuriko has been determined that the disorder would not stand in her way of her desire to travel. She began sharing her experiences of journeying by train or plane on YouTube channel “Wheelchair Walker” in 2014, but quickly felt that she could do more.
40-year-old ODA came up with the idea for the WheeLog! App for wheelchair users. The application plots locations on Google maps and provides details that are important to disabled people, such as barrier-free bathrooms and the wheelchair-friendliness of hotels and restaurants.
“The app is very user-centric and it has developed a community of users who get together every month or so,” ODA said. “The app can also trace where a user has been and can help indicate the best route for someone in a wheelchair.”
The app has proved hugely popular, with 28,000 people using it in 40 countries and 10 languages around the world.
Technology is also being created for people facing mental challenges, such as HoloAsh, a voice messenger application that utilizes artificial intelligence to communicate with a user.
The brainchild of KISHI Yoshua, HoloAsh is able to detect emotion in the user’s voice and an AI “friend” is always available to converse with and share problems or stresses.
KISHI originally designed the “therapeutic communication” to help people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder by improving their focus and self-affirmation through conversations.
HoloAsh’s Japanese technology has proved to be popular in North America, where there is rising demand for mental health care.
KONDO Takeo believes the seeds of a successful career are sown before a person - whether they are able-bodied or disabled - even starts considering a career. It all begins with access to education.
KONDO is an associate professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology at The University of Tokyo and instrumental in DO-IT, or Diversity, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology.
“We are supporting students with disabilities with a range of technologies, teaching them how to use them in their learning,” KONDO said, with DO-IT acting as a bridge between technology providers and people who need assistance, such as students, teachers and parents.
KONDO says Japanese society is becoming ever-more inclusive and open to people with disabilities, with physically and mentally challenged individuals now accessing tertiary education and building careers.
NAGASHIMA Osamu was a keen badminton player at school, but a car accident at the age of 20 injured his spinal cord and left him confined to a wheelchair.
That has not stood in his way, however, and he has won 14 singles and 12 doubles Japan Para-Badminton Championships. And with para-badminton included in the Paralympics Games for the first time, he is aiming to represent his nation on the biggest sporting stage of all.
NAGASHIMA, 40, brings the same commitment to his job at Lixil Corp, Japan’s leading manufacturer of housing products, where he has earned a patent for a coating technology that prevents the build-up of limescale in toilets. His latest area of research is ergonomics.
And while some of NAGASHIMA’s work tasks are related to his disability, he knows that was not why he was initially hired.
The society that we live in should be inclusive and not make judgements based on whether a person has a disability or not. My company showcases that philosophy. It makes absolutely no difference that I have a disability; I can be effective at my job, develop products that are useful and have a fulfilling career.
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