It is no longer a far-fetched dream for people with physical
or mental disabilities who need care and assistance in daily
life to make use of information technology to become full-fledged
working members of society.
For the last 10 years, Prop Station, a social welfare corporation
of which I am the director, has been advocating the idea for
``businesses, the government and citizens to jointly change society.''
The idea, which was treated like a pipe dream 10 years ago, has
now won general acceptance. How times have changed. To me, the
last 10 years were not ``a lost decade'' but ``a decade of fulfillment.''
In May, we started the Challenged Creative Project (CCP) to
market products made by people with disabilities at workshops
and vocational aid centers. With professional advice from the
designers and marketing specialists of Felissimo Co., a Kobe-based
mail-order catalog company, all the ``rough edges'' are removed
from the products before they are made available to customers
across Japan by mail order. The project is aimed at creating
real work for people who are physically or intellectually impaired
so they can truly integrate into society. A model of success
Hyogo Prefecture and Kobe, where Felissimo and Prop Station
are based, have both agreed to support the project. I am determined
to make it a model of success to encourage workshops and vocational
aid centers across the nation to participate in the CCP.
Starting last month, seven people with disabilities who are
members of Prop took part in the ``digital map virtual factory''
project initiated by NTT-Neomeit. Using their personal computers
at home, the workers will ``telecommute'' to the factory to draft
While receiving nursing care at home or elsewhere, many such
Prop members are making a contribution to society thanks to advanced
information technology such as broadband communications that
allow them to take part in televised meetings or other means
of communication via the Internet.
Since they can electronically exchange images, sounds and text
messages, people with hearing or visual impairments can interact
with each other on a real-time basis. Because Japan's broadband
usage fees are now the world's cheapest, I think telecommuting
that does not require workers to literally go to work every day
or requires them to only go as needed will increasingly become
a popular style of working from now on. This is also a big chance
for people with disabilities to advance in society.
Prop is able to promote telework because we have ties with
many companies that have state-of-the-art technology. For people
with disabilities to become professionals in the true sense,
they need to learn from real professionals. It's an unfortunate
fact that when one learns from an amateur, one can only be an
Many Japanese people with disabilities have been deprived of
the opportunity to receive a higher education. As a result, in
a society that attaches greater importance to a person's academic
background than abilities, they have fewer job options to choose
from than people without disabilities. Currently, Japan's educational
system and employment and welfare policies only focus on the
negative aspects of people with disabilities. Unless such viewpoints
are drastically changed, it will be difficult to change the situation.
For more than 30 years, such countries as Sweden, the United
States and Britain have been implementing policies aimed at encouraging
people with disabilities to become ``proud taxpaying members
of society.'' In other words, they are advocating a welfare policy
that does not regard disabilities as a personal problem but a
social one, and aims to overcome them.
As they are two sides of the same coin, unless public awareness
changes, social systems do not. In a country in which sovereignty
rests with the people, it is both the duty and the right of the
people to change systems. We are the ones who have to present
various ideas and develop successful models.
When Prop asks companies for support, we never ask them to
help people with disabilities out of pity. Instead, we tell them,
``The challenged can support society by learning and working.
They can also be good consumers. Please back them as you would
make any prior business investment.''
Businesses cannot act from a sense of pity. Those that deal
with us are doing so with a sense of mission, as organizations
with a social responsibility.
Prop also works in cooperation with many public employees.
At a time when many institutions are undergoing ``system fatigue,''
unless more public employees develop an awareness that they need
to change the status quo, it will be difficult for nonprofit
and nongovernmental organizations to make a positive contribution.
Instead of opposing each other, the government and the people
should play their respective roles and complement each other
to achieve a common goal. Doing so accelerates reform.
If organizations like Prop, which helps people with disabilities
work from home, spread across the nation, I believe there would
be more opportunities for people with disabilities to work. The
system that requires companies to hire a set ratio of such workers
also has problems. Under that system, companies that do not meet
the target ratio are fined. But instead of requiring them to
pay a fine, they should be allowed to place orders to workers
with disabilities outside the company. Such a system would support
diversified working styles. The government and citizens should
combine their efforts to develop new systems. For a barrier-free
With Chiba Prefecture, Prop co-hosted the Challenged Japan
Forum at Makuhari Messe in Chiba in late August. Governors and
top company managers attended from across Japan.
Businesses, governments and citizens should mutually acknowledge
what they do best and cooperate with one another. I believe this
is the first step toward creating a new democracy and a barrier-free
* * *
The author is chairperson of Prop Station, a Kobe-based social
welfare corporation. She contributed this comment to The Asahi
Shimbun.(IHT/Asahi: September 13,2003)