According to Toshiyuki Ueki, Fast Retailing’s director of general administration and employee satisfaction, the firm has been pursuing disability diversity since 2001, and 97% of Uniqlo shops nationwide now employ people with disabilities. “At Uniqlo, those with disabilities represent about 6% of our staff—which means at least one disabled person per regular shop and two for larger stores”, Ueki explained. The firm has a total of 60,000 employees, of whom 1,041 have a challenge of one form or another: for 70% it is intellectual; for 15% it is physical; while for the remainder it is mental issues. In Japan, those with disabilities generally struggle to play a role in mainstream society because the school system and other social institutions segregate these individuals from the population. However, Ueki believes that people with disabilities are now beginning to be accepted more readily than in the past. “At Fast Retailing, we are certainly accustomed to working with those with disabilities. Society needs to focus on people’s talents and how we can include these individuals in the workplace, regardless of disability”, he explained. The firm’s store managers work closely with disabled employees. This often provides managers with a degree of personal development, thus benefitting both parties, Ueki pointed out. “Our store staff have hands-on experience working with disabled people. This is hugely beneficial for them. We have also found that, because of this, store staff are better able to look after customers with disabilities, and are interacting with a more diverse group of people”, he said. GSK tries to accept people with all disabilities, particularly those living with mental illnesses. The firm, in collaboration with a special school for the disabled, has created roles for such individuals in the firm’s canteen. “One year of experience at GSK in our internship programme means a lot to disabled people and their education”, said Yomo. GSK also provides mentorship and follow-up sessions for disabled employees.
PHOTOS BY NINA OIKI
“We need to improve our understanding of their disabilities for the benefit of our other employees”, she added. AXA Life Insurance is the winner of the 2011 Toyo Keizai Diversity Management Award for the strategic approach the firm’s management took in promoting diversity and inclusion. In recognition that its customers have different needs, the firm’s marketing department recently created a product brochure that uses a universal font. This makes letters much easier to read for everyone, including those with impaired vision. In acknowledgement of the opinions of the firm’s deaf community, the department also added subtitles to the TV commercials that are displayed on the firm’s intranet and website. “Inclusion is not easy to achieve. To monitor our inclusiveness, we conduct a firm-wide diversity survey once a year. In the most recent survey, we asked employees if employment of people with disabilities would bring benefits to AXA. “Almost 80% of respondents indicated that they believe it is beneficial to employ people with disabilities. In addition, we have found that the closer our employees work with people with disabilities, the more they believe in the benefits of inclusion. “The assumption and preconception that individuals with disabilities can’t do many things is being challenged. We must change our way of thinking if we are to
have a successful diversity inclusion programme”, she said. GSK took part in a six-month project, which required that they look at the types of jobs people with disabilities are doing in the firm, and consider whether their facilities are really user-friendly. The results were featured in an in-house newsletter. “Through this project, our employees have increased their awareness of people with disabilities within the firm. However, this is an ongoing project that we need to continue pursuing”, Yomo said. “We need to raise awareness and change the preconceptions that people might have about those with disabilities”, she added. The impact on employees of working with disabled people is great, Ueki pointed out. Some of the employees at Fast Retailing have become motivated to learn new methods of communication. “There is a hearing impaired colleague in my department, and their presence has positively impacted the way in which my colleagues and I communicate in general. Those with hearing disabilities need to look at the speaker’s face while they are talking, in order to read their lips when sign language is not an option. The speaker has to enunciate their words to be understood. This certainly helps in communication in general, and my staff and I have started to acquire new skills— transferable skills—through working with people with disabilities”.
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