The first thing I found out when I met Fujiwara from the US Consulate was that yesterday’s presentation was picked up by Chunichi Shimbun. This is the most influential media outlet in Nagoya, and they published an article about our presentation. The Consulate and I were so excited!
Today, I went to Nanzan University, a Catholic run school, and was greeted by Professor Takazu Yamagishi of Global Studies. I was so excited to meet university students and talk about employing people with disabilities.
I spoke at two different classes to freshman and sophomores, and they all spoke English. I was so impressed with their interest and eagerness to hear about our practices in the United States, and I found it to be very engaging.
At the first class, we talked about how they believe people with disabilities in Japan are seen. I asked the class if someone would like to share their perspective. At first, no one raised their hand; you must remember how shy people often are in Japan, based on their culture, and so I called on students. In the front row, I called on a young man and who was looking down. He immediately looked up at me and started talking quietly. He started by saying he was diagnosed with a “problem” when he was five. He said he was bullied in school, and then he told the class he was autistic. I was so shocked and thrilled that someone in this class felt comfortable enough to disclose their disability. He went on to say how he believed people with disabilities are not treated as they should be in Japan. Then, another student, who was not disabled, spoke up and said people should be treated as humans. They said in Japan, people with disabilities are often shunned by others.
I told these students that the future is young people who can stand up and make a difference for those living with disabilities. They can be civil rights leaders. After the class, every student came up to give me a hug, but that young man wanted my autograph. How powerful his story was. How overwhelming this is to me. I love them all.
The next class I spoke to sophomores, also in English. There was one young woman in the class with a disability. She walks with a crutch, and said she has weakness in her one leg. She used a wheelchair last year, but can use crutches now. The professor, the same professor as the last class, asked the students to introduce themselves and tell me what their studies were before I presented. I found it to be very interesting that they first discussed their ethnic background. They would say their name and then, “I am Japanese and British or I am Japanese and Chinese, or like the young girl with a disability, I am Japanese and my mother is from New Zeeland.” Only after that, would they then tell me their studies. I asked the same questions I asked in the last class, but this was different. The young woman with a disability said, “Well, I can tell you first hand, because I have a disability.” She also has a Japanese boyfriend with a disability, and they feel they are sometimes isolated. She told me this unbelievable story about being on the subway, which has well-marked accessible seating, and no one would stand up to give her their seat. She said people do not see people with disabilities as viable workers. It was very sad.
But, she is very bubbly and said she does not care, because she believes in herself. Wonderful! Over all, the students shared the same view as the last class. They said people with disabilities are pitied and seen as inferior. I hear the same words everywhere I go.
Once again, I loved these young people and asked them to stand up and become civil right leaders for people with disabilities. After the class, one by one, they came up and gave me a hug and thanked me for coming.
That evening we met our US Consulate public affairs officer, Richard Roberts, and we went to a dinner with a young friend of his from Mongolia, Uujimaa. He is awesome. He spent the evening talking about the plight of people with disabilities in Mongolia, and how much worse it is than Japan. He is right, because there is no access, support, or leadership. He shared with me that he does have a friend with a disability that has a very hard time maneuvering in his wheelchair in Mongolia. This is mountainous terrain. To take him on a hike up Mt. Fuji, UUjimaa carried his friend on his back.
In Mongolia, a family would rather keep a child with a disability at home rather than try anything else.
Uujimaa, I hope I see you again!