【TNF Journal】Business’s New Relationship with Disabilities (Part 7)Recognizing Each Other’s Differences and Exploring Future Possibilities Dentsu’s Internal and External Initiatives in Inclusiveness

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(Left to right) Mr. Tsutomu Ando, leader of human rights awareness activities at Dentsu Inc., Ms. Masako Okuhira of The Nippon Foundation’s Working Group, and Mr. Kosuke Takahashi, the inventor of the “body-sharing robot NIN_NIN” and Braille Neue, a form of braille that is readable to both people with and without sight

Key Points in this Article

  • One-on-one human connections and dialogue inspire products and copy that are attractive to people 
  • Providing opportunities to think from the perspective of others promotes activities that enlighten and inspire
  • Ongoing recognition of each other’s differences and exploration of  possibilities beyond these are vital in creating an inclusive society

Reporting: The Nippon Foundation Journal Editing Department

Focusing on the employment of people with disabilities at companies and the development of products and services for people with disabilities, we introduce some outstanding initiatives in this series. We would like our readers to join us in considering what kind of viewpoints and ideas are necessary for creating an inclusive society* where everyone can participate irrespective of whether or not they have disabilities.

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

In charge of reporting are members of the Working Group* formed by The Nippon Foundation to accelerate the social participation of persons with disabilities. Following on from Part 6 (a new window opens), in this Part 7, we introduce the internal and external efforts of Dentsu Inc. (a new window opens), which leads the Japanese advertising industry.

  • A group formed to research and formulate plans for specific issues.

For this article, we interviewed Mr. Tsutomu Ando, General Manager of Human Rights Department, Legal Division, who engaged in human rights awareness activities at Dentsu Inc. and Mr. Kosuke Takahashi, a communication designer and inventor who invented “NIN_NIN,” (a new window opens), a robot that shares physical functions with other people, and “Braille Neue,” a new type of braille that is readable to both persons with visual impairments and persons with sight.

New experiences by complementing existing physical faculties

Okuhira: I am Masako Okuhira from The Nippon Foundation Working Group. First of all, we understand that your title is “inventor.” Is that correct?

Mr. Takahashi: That is something I’ve only just started calling myself. I was born in Akihabara, Tokyo, and as I was surrounded by computer parts and other equipment since I was a child, I always liked to think about new ideas and create things. Once I started working with various products, I became driven by a desire to design them a certain way, so when I started giving form to some of my own ideas, I felt that they could be considered “inventions,” so I started calling myself an inventor.

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Mr. Kosuke Takahashi who works as an inventor as well as a communication designer

Okuhira: The body-sharing robot NIN_NIN that you brought with you today is very cute. What kind of things can it do?

Mr. Takahashi: NIN_NIN is a robot jointly developed with the Ory Laboratories Inc. (a new window opens) that uses the power of technology to encourage people with various disabilities to participate in society. It was developed with the idea of sharing physical functions with others. For example, through its built-in camera, it becomes the “eyes” of a visually impaired person, and conversely, a visually impaired person becomes the “feet” of a person who cannot walk. By complementing physical functions in this way, people can experience for the first time new experiences not previously possible.

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The body-sharing robot NIN_NIN invented by Mr. Takahashi
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Ms. Okuhira trying out Nin_Nin on her shoulder

Okuhira: I see. Please tell us if there was anything you paid particular attention to as you created this robot.

Mr. Takahashi: We focused on the connections between people through robots. We also paid particular attention to creating a robot that was “loveable,” and would make people feel its human warmth. It has a plump bottom, so it can easily be put it into a ninja pose. We thought that if the robot had some playful aspects, it would be more easily accepted by society. Once we had some children trial NIN_NIN. It was very popular among them and they kept pleading with us, “Let me put it on my shoulder” (laughs). Rather than simply providing support in a mechanical manner, we wanted NIN_NIN to provide support with human warmth. We hope that it will provide opportunities not only for people with disabilities but also a wide variety of people to connect.

Okuhira: It is an interesting and very important point of view.

Mr. Takahashi: As a student, I studied the effects of robot movements on the human mind. I think that experience is also reflected in my current activities.

Making difficult braille more familiar

Okuhira: Next, please tell us about “Braille Neue,” which can be read both by people with sight and people without sight.

Mr. Takahashi: I decided to create this because I felt, “Gee, I wish I could read braille.” When I visited a welfare facility, a visually impaired person told me, “If you can read braille, you can read even in the dark.”

Those words had a huge impact on me. For example, I thought if I could read braille, it could come in handy when I had to give speeches. I could read the text just by touching it with my fingers. I then wondered why I couldn’t read braille (laughs).

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Braille Neue, visually readable braille

Okuhira: That person’s single comment seems to have sparked your interest in braille.

Mr. Takahashi: That’s right. It had nothing to do with disabilities. I just thought it would be cool. After I started investigating braille, I realized how deep that world was. In the Japanese braille system, for example, a cell made up of six dots in two vertical rows represents one Japanese kana character, with three dots used for vowels and the rest consonants. It’s rather difficult, don’t you think?

Okuhira: So it’s that kind of system. While it is certainly simple, reading it with the fingers seems difficult to me.

Mr. Takahashi: That’s true. What motivated me to create this Braille Neue was my desire to experience braille in a more familiar way.  For a person who has never read braille before, the challenge of learning it is quite daunting. What’s more, not even all visually impaired people can read braille. I just wanted to make the challenge of learning braille a little less daunting. 

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Ms. Okuhira listens to Mr. Takahashi (right) talk about what inspired him to create Braille Neue 
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Braille Neue is also used in elevators at Dentsu

Okuhira: Please tell us about those aspects you paid particular attention to in this project.

Mr. Takahashi: I was particular about the design. I wanted it to be somewhere in between cute and stylish . I also chose blue for the color, as blue is my favorite color. Coincidentally, I was also pleasantly surprised to hear from a friend that blue is a stable color even for people with color blindness.

Okuhira: With this visually readable braille, we may well be able to come into contact with worlds unknown to us until now.

Mr. Takahashi: Yes, indeed. Myself included. By meeting people of various backgrounds, I have become aware of many things that had not previously crossed my field of vision. In recent years, we have the opportunity to hear the word “diversity” quite frequently. Going beyond simply recognizing each other’s differences, I feel it is important for us to keep exploring how we can be more empathetic to each other as we engage in dialogue.

In the future as well, I hope to further increase those “moments when the barriers between us fall away” in the same way as when I was told, “Did you know if you read braille you can read in the dark?”

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Mr. Takahashi talks about the importance of dialogue

Considering words from the perspectives of various people

Okuhira: As I listen to various people speak, I get the impression that Dentsu has a well-established culture for accepting diversity. I would now like to hear from Mr. Ando who is in charge of “human rights slogans,” an initiative that has spread this culture.

Mr. Ando: To begin, I would like to explain what we mean by “human rights slogans.” Under this initiative, which began in 1988, Dentsu employees and their families are invited to think about slogans aimed at making people more aware of human rights, and the slogans that are selected are widely used by Dentsu in the promotion of human rights in society. In 2020, we collected about 8,000 slogans.

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Mr. Ando, ​​who leads human rights awareness activities at Dentsu at the Legal Division

Okuhira: That is an interesting initiative.

Mr. Ando: In the advertising business, even words that you create and believe are good can hurt someone. This initiative includes the intention of being able to think about words from the perspective of various people so that such a situation does not occur.

I also think that it is a good opportunity for employees to learn what other people are saying, what kind of approach they are taking, and the manner in which they are communicating.

Okuhira: How many slogans are ultimately selected each time?

Mr. Ando: About 20 to 30 in all. They are selected based on recommendations from staff.  Also in years when there is no impact from the coronavirus (COVID-19), staff who are members of the selection committee gather in the conference room and make their selection.

Okuhira: Do you have some standards or criteria for selection?

Mr. Ando: We consider the order of popularity, and we place importance on the message including factors such as can it catch the attention of many people or is the message easily conveyed? To be more specific, can it be sensitive to human heartache and can it easily lead to future actions?

One example is: There are many restaurants that won’t accept reservations for a person in a wheelchair like me. Under normal circumstances, a restaurant is judged on the basis of good taste, popularity and other factors. However, the poster conveys that the basis for evaluation will be different depending on the viewpoint of people in different situations such as people with disabilities. Another example of a slogan is: I can’t see you walking as you look at your smartphone. This is from the perspective of a visually impaired person but it seems that many people who see it intuitively want to stop looking at their smartphones as they walk.

There are many restaurants that won’t accept reservations for a person in a wheelchair like me.    (2017 prize-winning slogan on the theme “human rights of persons with disabilities.”  The poster was produced by creators at Dentsu.)
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I can’t see you walking as you look at your smartphone. (2017 prize-winning slogan on the theme “human rights of persons with disabilities.”  This poster was produced in the Huma Rights Art Project in collaboration with Joshibi University of Art and Design.)

Okuhira: I see. Those are slogans that certainly readily convey their message. Do you display the winning works somewhere?

Mr. Ando: We combine the slogans with illustration to make posters, and after framing them, we lend them to government organizations, schools and companies free of charge. The posters have been well received with people making comments such as, “When I saw the poster on display, it made me stop and think.”

Okuhira: I heard there are also other initiatives related to human rights slogans.

Mr. Ando: When our new hires join the company, they receive training in human rights awareness. In addition, we hold regular seminars where we often create opportunities for employees to think about human rights.

My department also sends out e-newsletters concerning the latest information on human rights and relevant laws, etc. about twice a month.

Okuhira: So your company as a whole is making various efforts.

Mr. Ando: I think it is important to provide opportunities for everyone to think together, even in regard to human rights slogans. In the future, I would like to increase such opportunities for dialogue.

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Mr. Ando saying that he would like to increase opportunities for everyone to think about human rights

Okuhira: Thank you very much for your participation today.

Photo: Eizaburo Togawa