This was our last day in Japan. We certainly will miss our new and old friends. These trips always remind me of how people with disabilities around the world all strive to end stigma and increase employment. As you know, I live with epilepsy. A seizure is a seizure no matter where you live, but the stigma is much more pronounced in Japan.
On our last day, we had a very interesting morning. During our visit, we discovered that companies in Japan have what is called “special subsidiaries” to help them hit the 2% hiring goal of people with disabilities required by the government. Rather than inclusive hiring, these corporations are hiring people with disabilities in a separate division. This practice is very troubling.
I was invited to the Mitsubishi Electric’s special subsidiary, MELCO Tender Mates Sweet Factory—a cookie bakery. The employees of this special subsidiary are all people with disabilities, and all have hidden disabilities. There are no employees who use a wheelchair or who are blind or deaf. We met with the management staff, and they told us how stringent they are on cleanliness. No one can eat oysters, because they can make you sick. Everyone must have a temperature check and wear garments that look like hazmat outfits. They are so covered that I told the management this had to be cleaner than a surgical table. The obvious problem is that the employees were working in a separate area, and some were paid less than others. The saddest part is that this practice is accepted and perpetuated across corporate Japan.
Of course, every time I spoke, I talked about sheltered workshops and how the trend in the U.S. is to close the workshops. In this case, they are not aware that what they are doing is wrong.
Later that day, we visited the corporate office of Mitsubishi Electric, and we were treated to a beautiful tour and lunch. I had the opportunity to talk about hiring people with disabilities in fields like information technology, engineering, finance, and other professional roles. I told them about the Czech Republic and how the employment rate is 98%. Companies cannot find employees, and they have resorted to using robots in plants. I explained that they are missing out on an untapped labor pool, and I hope they will consider this approach.
That evening was one of the highlights of my visit!! I went to the Independent Living Center, Disabled Peoples International – Japan. We met everyone, and we knew some of them from a trip they made to Washington, DC to visit Yoshiko Dart! This was great! I loved being with them! That evening we went to dinner together and had a great time! They will always be my family!
Well, I must close the blogs on this wonderful trip. I learned so much and worked to represent America and share best practices from our country here in Japan.
I must acknowledge my friends from the US State Department, Brandon Lambert and Jennifer Boechner, for working so hard to help me help others around the world. They are part of everything I do for people with disabilities in Japan. They are part of changing lives, and I am proud to know them. And to my friend, Richard Roberts, you are the best representative possible of the State Department. Until we all meet again, Lead On!