We met Richard and Makiko in the morning, and traveled to meet Yutaka Takamine, the president of Empowerment Okinawa, and eight other members from various organizations related to social welfare and disability. Yukata and a few others were people with disabilities in leadership in these organizations. During out meeting, much of the conversation was about supported employment and sheltered workshops. They wanted to know what we are doing in America in this area. I explained that we have moved away from sheltered workshops and sub-minimum pay for people with disabilities in America and have been innovating the traditional “job coach” role in employment. One thing that really surprised them is that I am not a government subsidized business. It was remarkable to them that Bender Consulting Services is a for profit company.
The conversation was very interactive, and they also wanted to know about changes in the U.S. since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed. I shared our progress, and they were amazed. They told me when the ADA was signed in 1990, they were shocked…shocked and very excited!
One of the attendees told me he read the speech President Bush made on July 26th when the law was signed was so inspired. It did remind me that many of us in the U.S. do not realized the power and importance of our own history. We talked about so many leaders who are a part of our history, Justin Dart, Michael Winters, Judy Heumann and Ed Roberts—all civil rights leaders they so admire.
One of the people at our table owned the restaurant where we met and enjoyed lunch. When you walk in, you see that several of the employees behind the counter have disabilities, including intellectual disabilities. I loved this place, and if I lived in Okinawa, I would go there all the time.
That evening was a great, great evening! I spoke at an event titled, The Economic Benefits of Meaningful Employment for People with Disabilities, arranged by the U.S. Consulate. Joel Ehrendreich, the Consul General, was in attendance and introduced me to Mr. Kawamura, Head of the Job Center for People with Disabilties Okinawa, I spoke first and told my personal story and then talked about the great ability of people with disabilities, and why businesses will improve their bottom line by employing people with disabilities in Okinawa. Then, Mr. Kawanura spoke and showed photos on the screen of job opportunities for people with disabilities in Okinawa. It was shocking to me and showed me how far we have progressed in the U.S. The jobs ranged from cleaning chickens, and toilets to cutting meat. In the 30-minute presentation, he only showed one job where you might use a computer to perform clerical functions. Over 200 people attended, including the disability leaders from earlier in the day. We have a long way to go in Okinawa to break down stigma and barriers.
What overwhelmed me most is when the young man living with autism, who I met at Associa University earlier in the week, walked in to hear me speak. Wow! I asked him to sit by me up front and he did…I just love him! Young people with disabilities in the U.S., in Okinawa, and around the world represent our future! I love them all! Also, thirty young people from the deaf community attended and one of them met me in the U.S. at the AAPD ADA Celebration with Yoshiko! She walked up to me and showed me the photo of us; that photo is my profile photo on Facebook and has been for over a year!
So many people talked to me for over 45 minutes after the event that they had to ask us to leave the auditorium. I am so sad to leave and so determined to inspire the business community to hire people!