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Nami's Perspective

Illust by Junko Suzuki
Prop Station, a Nonprofit Social Welfare
Organization Supporting the Challenged.

Quoted from
IHT-The Asahi Shimbun
Saturday- Sunday, September 13-14, 2003


Regenerate society by including the challenged


POINT OF VIEW/ Nami Takenaka:


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 electronic maps.

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 amateur.

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 society

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 society.

* * *

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)


POINT OF VIEW / Nami Takenaka:
Look beyond old notions of welfare and labor new
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun Wednesday, September 13-14, 2003
Regenerate society by including the challenged
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun, Saturday- Sunday, September 13-14, 2003
Create a society supported by the challenged
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun, Saturday- Sunday, July 19-20, 2003
Single-mom activist helps taxpayers out of challenged
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun, Saturday- Sunday, June 28-29, 2003
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