Today was such an exciting day, as it was my first program in Nagoya, Japan! I spoke at the International Center, at an event arranged by the US Consulate and Aichi Disability Forum. My presentation was “The Economic Benefits of Meaningful Employment for People with Disabilities.” I was introduced by the Principal Officer from the U.S. Consulate, Gary Schaefer. At the event, I was a co-presenter with Mr. Tankanori Sai, the Assistant to the Chair of Disabled People International in Japan. The room had over 100 attendees at full capacity.
The audience was comprised of businesses, non-government organizations, representatives from academia, people with disabilities, and young disability rights advocates. The entire program was simultaneously interpreted to the audience, and it made the presentation so much easier. There were members from the deaf community in attendance, and there were sign language interpreters. I was so pleased to see that level of inclusive education at the event.
I was very excited to talk about the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and US Business Leadership Network (USBLN) Disability Equality Index (DEI) and the impact it has made in the business community. I also explained the commitment of Ted Kennedy, Jr. to the program and how that brings us much credibility. The DEI is a new concept to the audience in Japan, and the attendees were very interested in hearing more about it. I also discussed the impact of the DEI on supplier diversity and the USBLN certification of disability-owned business enterprises.
The core of my presentation was, of course, employment. I explained how hiring people with disabilities is a good business decision with a return on investment to the company…“paychecks not pity.” I was so moved when a young business owner stood up and made a promise to me to work with the disability community on employment and to hire someone.
The next presentation was by Mr. Takanori Sai, who spoke on “Challenges for People with Disabilties in Japan.” Sadly, sheltered workshops are active in Japan, and companies hire people with disabilities to work in what they call a “special subsidiary” of the company. They create these subsidiaries so they may meet the 2.3% quota companies must reach or they pay a penalty. I do not know what those jobs are, but I am sure it is menial employment. Keep in mind the rate of employment for people with disabilities in Japan is 1.97%!!! This is terrible and I hope I can inspire employers to see the business value of hiring people with disabilities.
After our presentation, we had and question and answer period and most of the questions were directed to me. Several were about the DEI and what impact it is having on businesses. There were also questions about the change in America with the closing of sheltered workshops.
After the event, there was a small reception. I was surrounded by people with questions, especially young people with disabilities. I was thrilled to spend time with individuals who came to hear me speak, who had met me in DC at the AAPD ADA Celebration last year with Yoshiko Dart. We had great conversations about the power of the grassroots initiatives in the U.S. and accomplishments made by the Independent Living Centers. This was the best part of the day for me—young disability rights advocates—it just doesn’t get better than that! Lead On!