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West Japan 'hero' team with disabilities promotes diversity, tackles workplace bullying

Leader Kunio Otani, front row center, and other "rangers" of the "hero" consulting group "Diversity Sentai Yarunjazu" pose for a photo in Osaka's Kita Ward on Nov. 7, 2019. (Mainichi/Yuka Obuno)
Sign language entertainment group "Oioi" stage a performance during a party held in celebration of the formation of the "hero" consulting group "Diversity Sentai Yarunjazu," in Osaka's Chuo Ward on Nov. 7, 2019. (Mainichi/Yuka Obuno)

People with hearing impairments, physical disabilities, developmental disorders and other conditions formed a "hero" consulting group for companies and business owners tackling their common archenemy: workplace harassment.

Based in the city of Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture, western Japan, the group was named "Diversity Sentai Yarunjazu" -- a pun on Japanese superhero television series "Super Sentai," about a team of rangers who battle a host of villains to save the day.

Amid increasing employment of disabled workers, the team of heroes aims to promote diversity of gender, nationality, and people with disabilities in a fun manner.

"We'd like them (companies) to adopt an accurate view of those concerned," said team leader Kunio Otani with a smile.

The 58-year-old Kawanishi resident is a former manager with the radio news department at Mainichi Broadcasting System Inc. Several years ago, his politician wife told an event for the disabled, "We will think about the assistance we can provide." He recalled thinking at the time, "People with disabilities aren't just recipients of support. We can learn a lot from them."

With this in mind, Otani took early retirement in 2016 and established Good News Joho Hasshin Juku, a consulting "cram school" on how to spread information, in Kawanishi. And this led to the formation of the consulting group.

This group consists of about 35 "rangers," whom Otani came to know through interviews and other channels. In the summer of 2019, they began distributing information based on individual experiences with the goal of making a diverse and inclusive society, and formed the Diversity Sentai Yarunjazu that November. The team aims to push back against harassment, reduce risks to businesses and improve workplace motivation.

A party was held in celebration of the group's formation on the evening of Nov. 7 in Osaka's Kita Ward. "Can everyone stand up for a moment?" In response to Otani's suggestion, a member in a wheelchair jokingly replied, "Hey, I can't stand up."

Hideyuki Ouchi, 40, from the Hyogo Prefecture city of Itami, is a paraclimber who won his third consecutive title in the national championships in February 2019. He described the charms of paraclimbing with humor during the party. "It's important to keep on challenging yourself. Everyone has the potential (to succeed)," he told the audience.

"People with developmental disorders aren't used to ambiguous expressions, and there's a higher chance of miscommunication," explained another member. Yuko Motomura, 49, is the leader of the general incorporated association UnBalance, consisting of people who have developmental disabilities and others.

Motomura said, "People with developmental disorders don't self-evaluate well, and often say 'no' to open-ended questions like 'Do you have any concerns?' It's easier for such people to ask for advice in response to specific questions like, 'Did something happen to make you feel bad?'" She also explained that people tell her that they can't tell if she has a disability, because developmental disabilities are hard to detect from a person's appearance.

Osaka-based sign language entertainment group "Oioi," consisting mainly of people with hearing impairments, aims to spread the charm and power of expression through sign language by staging performances with music and dance. Another member, Mizuki Kishihata, is the 28-year-old head of the midwife group "With Midwife," also based in the western Japan city. She is aiming to become a midwife who provides consultation on childbearing and -rearing at workplaces.

Diversity Sentai Yarunjazu have staged performances accompanied by sign language in public lectures, and held instructional courses on maternity harassment for local government officials. It plans to hold training sessions for the food service and beauty industries on offering service to customers with disabilities that often go unnoticed during a first meeting, such as developmental disorders and hearing impairments.

"We'll keep you from being bored. We will strive to keep putting on sessions with fun, unique and helpful content," commented Otani.

The contents of the sessions include lectures given by members, as well as performances by Oioi. Interested parties should contact the group to discuss costs. For more inquiries, please send an email to Diversity Sentai Yarunjazu at nrn59240@nifty.com (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Yuka Obuno, Hanshin Bureau)

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