CEO Ms. Akiko Wakagi
Would you mind if I ask you how you have started your life on a wheelchair?
I have been on a wheelchair since I was seven. We were climbing up a wall made with blocks with other children one day. When I stepped on the wall, those blocks fell over me. It was an unexpected accident, and this wheelchair life has been already 30 years.
That is a very shocking accident. Would you tell me your life after school?
I started working for general & human affairs department in one of the enterprises through the employment of person with disabilities. My theme was “What does it mean by working with disabilities?” in this era. I wanted to show “I can work like a full-fledged person”, but not “I cannot work because I am a disability person”. General enterprises tend to choose the assignment appropriate for the disability person, but I was not satisfied with the assignment they chose. Because I am completely normal except my feet. I was not happy about this as if they judge my work ability in a unilateral way without hearing from me directly.
To change the huge organization, it is impossible to accomplish only one person. Therefore, I started working with other departments so that they can recognize my ability. Sooner or later, I got many great feedbacks like “You can work more than I expected”. I even got several offers from other departments. However, it was too complicated to change general & human affairs department. We learn through the experience in our field of work and grow more. Therefore, I was not able to grow in the very limited same frame. In conclusion, I suffered from stress and decided to leave.
At the second company, I worked in the general affairs department and assisted hiring of new graduates. Since it was a very understandable company, they allowed me to set out a goal to be a generalist of general affairs department. I ended up being responsible for recruitment. I traveled all over Japan to visit schools. It was a lot of fun and there was a sense of fulfillment. Because of the marriage, I retired this company.
After the period of not being able to make up my mind, I started my own business related to recruitment and barrier-free. Many people are more interested in barrier-free business. After my divorce, I established LIEN corporation.
What is the main service of LIEN corporation?
I am consulting regarding barrier-free product &service development for the companies.
For example, our wheelchairs are custom-made. My wheelchair is made for exact size of my body. It is lightweight, has short handles, and it reduces burden even after a long ride. There are so many ideas and policy of disability people in the wheelchairs.
I have assisted a process of developing a wedding dress for a wheelchair. There are many issues when someone is in the wedding dress together with a wheelchair like a total balance and tangling the edge of the dress into a wheel. I felt uncomfortable when I saw a company putting a wedding dress over the wheelchair so that people would not recognize a wheelchair. I proposed coordinating a wheelchair to match with the wedding dress in this case.
There are the scenes when disability people cannot live exactly the same as healthy people do. However, it is possible to build a relationship to identify each other if we accept a little ingenuity rather than not rejecting from the beginning.
I think it is necessary for the companies to be related with you because there are many points that healthy people do not realize. What project are you working on currently?
I am developing an online research site called “emilink” （http://emilink.le-lien.co.jp/）.
When I was working at the first company as a new employee, there were many occasions to go out for a drink after work. We usually do not stay at the same place for a drink but go other places after an hour or so. Then it was difficult to find a place quickly where wheelchair person can easily get in. I wished there was a website where I could search an available place for both disability people and healthy people. That was the trigger to develop “emilink”, which is the website for everyone not vertically divided for each section like elderly people, disability people, and mother and children. I hope disability people would feel like going out more as through using this site and for the healthy people, I hope they would find out the points disability people see in their lives.
There are restaurants, beauty salons, and hotels on the website. For disability people, it is very time consuming to make a phone call to ask whether it is ok for them to have a wheelchair person. Moreover, we have to repeat this process to explain the condition of wheelchair people every time we make a reservation. It makes us easier to go out if there is a post of requirements to meet by the shops.
I go on a wheelchair and ask posting on the website at each store all by myself. Sometimes, they decline cold “We do not accept wheelchairs and baby strollers”.
Many of the stores only can think about making slopes and elevators. But it is necessary to accommodate a lavatory equipment, enough space, and assistance dog space. Since disability people have to use the elevator exit at the public transportation stations, the approximate time required to go to the store is different from the healthy people. Therefore, I research how long it takes from the nearest elevator exit to the store as well.
I would like to prepare an English version of the website for the Tokyo Olympic until four years later.
What do you think about the position in the company as for the disability people?
I think it is like a female stand point of view back in the old days. There are disability people who do only the miscellaneous tasks. On the other hand, some people are active in the front lines. There is a huge gap between.
What is the scene you feel uncomfortable living in your daily life?
There are many things and places nowadays but there are just a few choices for us compare to healthy people. There are only limited places for us to use.
I still face to the scene that I feel too difficult to get into the stores even though I actually go to the stores. I want to be treated like a normal person and see around the store with my own pace. But it is hard to tell this to the clerks.
Some clerks even show us the attitude of “Disability people are not our customers”. They are under the wrong impression that disability people do not purchase. I think if clerks treat us like normal customers, they will do just fine.
In Japan, normal people are not used to communicate with disability people in their daily life. It would be the big trigger to be a member of society if disability people go out more. However, I know how much energy they have to consume just to go to one store. I hope using “emilink” will reduce the burden.
I am hiring volunteer stuff who can research and sales with me to be able to gain more speed.
Can you send the last message to the audience?
I hope that people would not seal their possibilities by themselves. It is too good to leave as it is without challenging because you have disabilities or children. I kept breaking my shell and challenging something new and here I am now. When I think about 10 years later, I wanted to grow more. That motivated me to step out of my shell. If you are afraid of the first step, think about the world waiting for you. It would change your life.