【TNF Journal】Business’s New Relationship with Disabilities (Part 1)Market Needs of $8 TrillionLearning from Forward-looking Companies About Inclusion of People with Disabilities
Essential for Sustainable Growth

Working Group at The Nippon Foundation comprised of members of diverse backgrounds, which promotes the social participation of people with disabilities

Reporting: The Nippon Foundation Journal Editing Department

Key Points in this Article

  • Preconceptions and stereotyping are among the factors delaying the hiring of people with disabilities (“It seems like a lot of work,” “It’s difficult”).
  • To accelerate the social participation of people with disabilities, The Nippon Foundation has formed a working group centered on individuals with disabilities.
  • The aim of the Working Group is to build a society where everyone can play an active role by sharing the knowledge and know-how of companies that take forward-looking initiatives.

Disabilities are never far from us. People with disabilities account for 15% of the world’s population, which is about one billion people. Furthermore, approximately 50% of all people know someone with a disability, including family members and friends, and the purchasing power of these people with disabilities and their families and friends combined is said to be as high as 8 trillion dollars. Despite this, little attention is paid to this enormous workforce and market.

This series “Business’s New Relationship with Disabilities” will focus on the employment of people with disabilities at various companies and the development of products and services for people with disabilities and introduce some outstanding initiatives. We would like our readers to join us in considering what kind of viewpoints and ideas are necessary for creating a society where everyone can participate irrespective of whether or not they have disabilities.

In charge of the reporting were members of the Working Group formed by The Nippon Foundation to accelerate the social participation of persons with disabilities. Members with diverse backgrounds including persons with cerebral palsy, persons completely blind, deaf persons, and persons with mental disabilities are working on the development of new projects aimed at realizing an inclusive society*.

  • * A society in which the existence of each and every individual is valued, regardless of race, gender, nationality, social status, or disability.

In this Part 1 of the series, we interviewed members of the Working Group about the current status and issues in the social participation of persons with disabilities in Japan.

Lack of progress in social participation of people with disabilities due to underlying preconceptions and stereotyping

As of 2020, the statutory employment rate for persons with disabilities(*) prescribed by the government in Japan was 2.2%, and this rate is set to be increased to 2.3% on March 1, 2021, but less than half of all companies have achieved that figure.

  • * Percentage of workers with disabilities to be employed in each private company and local public entity, prescribed under the Act on Employment Promotion etc. of Persons with Disabilities.

In addition, many companies that do employ people with disabilities are fixated only on satisfying the statutory employment rate, which has no bearing on helping workers to find their work rewarding or improving corporate profits. Furthermore, only a small number of companies reflect the views of people with disabilities.

“In short, the reason progress in the social participation of people with disabilities is difficult is because many companies have the view that hiring people with disabilities requires a great deal of time and effort. Disabilities cover a wide area from physical to mental, and terms related to persons with disabilities such as ‘accessibility’ (*1) and ‘reasonable accommodation’ (*2) also give the impression that disabilities are difficult to deal with.”

  • *1Meaning “ease of access” or “ease of use,” the word refers to the state and degree of ease of use by various people irrespective of whether they are elderly or have a disability.
  • *2Means making adjustments based on characteristics and circumstances of each individual so that all people can enjoy their rights equally regardless of whether or not they have a disability.
Associate Professor Izutsu discusses why the employment of people with disabilities is not making progress in Japanese society

This is the view expressed by Associate Professor Takashi Izutsu of the University of Tokyo, who is one of the members of the Working Group. To promote social participation of persons with disabilities, it may be necessary to first eliminate preconceived notions that many people have about disabilities: I don’t know much about them. They seem to involve a lot of work.

D&I is essential for a company’s continuous growth

“In some countries where people of diverse races and religions live, diversity and inclusion (D&I*) are making progress in some regions. For example, in Germany which has a statutory employment rate of 5%, the actual employment rate is over 4%, and France’s statutory employment rate is 6%, about three-fold that of Japan. In the United States, where individual freedom is respected, there is no concept of a statutory employment rate. Instead the United States promotes the building of a society where discrimination does not occur even when people have disabilities based on the principle that ‘All people are equal’ and laws that prohibit discrimination and provide for equal opportunities.”

  • * Creation of a society where everyone can play an active role by respecting and acknowledging diversity of race, gender, age, and the presence or absence of disabilities.

This is how Ms. Masako Okuhira, who is also a member of the Working Group, describes the current state of D&I in developed countries.

Ms. Okuhira (right) of the Working Group promoting the participation in society of persons with disabilities from the standpoint of a persons with a disability

The 8th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of the SDGs, which 193 United Nations member countries have agreed to achieve in 15 years from 2016 to 2030, states that countries will “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” Specifically, this goal states that countries will “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value.”

The 17 international goals of the SDGs

Perhaps influenced by this trend, “ESG investment,” which places priority on the selection of companies that show consideration for the environment, society, and corporate governance, is becoming a worldwide standard in the area of investment in stocks and other commodities.

According to an announcement of the Ministry of Finance, ESG money in 2018 had already reached the level where it accounted for the majority of total assets under management of investors not only in Europe and the United States, which have long placed importance on ESG, but also in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While the increase in ESG investment in Japan is notable, it is still low compared to that of other countries.

In addition, “The Valuable 500” (a new window opens), a global movement that promotes social participation of persons with disabilities in companies launched by Irish social entrepreneur Caroline Casey at the annual general meeting of the World Economic Forum (Davos Conference) in January 2019, is also stepping up its activities. The Nippon Foundation acts as a flag-bearer in Japan with the aim of having business leaders reform their businesses so as to enable persons with disabilities to demonstrate their full potential in society and business.

At the February 6, 2020 public seminar “Disabilities and Business: Inclusion Enhances Corporate Value,” where Caroline Casey was a guest speaker

This movement aims to obtain the support of 500 CEOs worldwide. In Japan, 24 corporations including the Marui Group Co., Ltd., Mitsui Chemicals, Inc., SoftBank Corp. and All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd. are participating (as of September 24, 2020).

In addition to companies participating in The Valuable 500, companies in Japan making forward-thinking efforts toward the social participation of persons with disabilities are increasing. One of the missions of the Working Group is to collect excellent case studies and share wisdom and know-how gained from these with society as a whole.

The Working Group responding to interviews.
Even members engaged in activities in regional areas and abroad participated in interviews online with the support of subtitles and sign language interpreting using UD Talk.*
*Software for communicating with deaf people using a PC or mobile phone.

Disseminating in society wisdom learned from the D&I of forward-thinking companies

Focusing on human resource development for persons with disabilities in areas such as living support and scholarships, The Nippon Foundation has provided support both in Japan and internationally for decades.

“There are about one billion people in the world with disabilities, 80 percent of whom are said to live in developing countries. Despite this, many people are forced to live in poverty because of their disabilities. The Nippon Foundation has provided support for secondary and higher education mainly to people with disabilities in Southeast Asia, based on the view that it is society not people that has ‘disabilities.’ In the future, in addition to education, we are considering providing support through work,” stated Yosuke Ishikawa, the project team leader.

Support for secondary and higher education for deaf persons in Vietnam
Mr. Ishikawa (right), project team leader for promoting social participation of persons with disabilities. On the left is Eriko Uchiyama, who leads the team with Mr. Ishikawa.

“We also have a lot to learn about D&I initiatives. Through reporting in this serial project, we would like to talk to companies that are making outstanding efforts and share their knowledge and know-how with society as a whole so that we can contribute to creating a society where everyone can play an active role.”

Mr. Ishikawa speaks enthusiastically about the society that The Nippon Foundation is aiming for.

In Part 2 of this series, we would like to explore ideas for accelerating the social participation of persons with disabilities through interviews with persons with disabilities who are active in the Working Group.

Photo: Eizaburo Togawa