A cafe in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward has become a place where adults with developmental disabilities can find their own space and share their problems.
Necco Cafe was opened in September 2011 by an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities find jobs and their own place in society.
All of the employees at the cafe have some sort of disability, as do officials of the organization that founded it.
Yoko Kamoya, 43, a waitress there, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder about 10 years ago.
“I’d been having a difficult time until I found out I suffer from the disorder. Whenever I failed, I thought it was only because I didn’t try hard enough,” said Kamoya, who is also a member of the organization. “If people who come to this cafe have concerns too, I want them to talk to us.”
Mayako Kaneko, the 60-year-old director of the organization, said, “People with developmental disabilities are often criticized about things they aren’t good at, and many have lost their confidence.”
“I hope that each of them discovers his or her strength here while sharing what’s bothering them with their peers,” Kaneko said.
The cafe covers occupies an area of about 50 sq. meters and has about 30 seats. It is open from noon to 6 p.m. and also runs on weekends and during the Bon summer holidays.
Books about developmental disabilities and isolation from society line the shelves of the cafe, where craft workshops, activities for hobbyists and other events and study sessions are held.
Satsuki Ayaya, 39, a specially appointed researcher at the University of Tokyo who has Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of autism, organizes a meeting twice a month where about 30 people gather and share their problems.
“I didn’t know who I could talk to about my feelings until I came here,” said a male participant in his 40s.
The man said his boss and work colleagues often criticize him for not understanding his situation.
“For those who bear problems by themselves, more places like this are needed,” he said.
Officials of the organization, founded in April 2011, also use the cafe as a base for their activities to let more people with developmental disabilities know about what they are doing.
A social welfare worker who belongs to the organization has launched a magazine about disabilities and is selling copies at the cafe.
Workplace manual afoot
An Osaka-based nonprofit organization that supports people with developmental disabilities has issued a booklet offering helpful tips for firms and organizations to create a better working environment for the disabled.
The Developmental Disorders Adult Advanced Community started distributing the manual to companies to promote a better understanding of the developmentally disabled, who often look no different from anybody else.
According to the DDAC’s Yui Hirono, 41, many people dealing with disabilities or disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome have a hard time preparing documents or managing their duties and time — the basic requirements for employment.
She said, however, that employees with developmental disorders can outshine their nondisabled peers in performing certain tasks, such as project planning, noting that disorders often only impair specific areas.
The organization has been involved mainly in educational activities to provide support for adults with disabilities that include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, Asperger’s and pervasive development disorder.
Hirono pointed out that because developmental disorders often impair one’s ability to communicate and interact socially, many people have a hard time adapting to new environments and end up changing jobs frequently.
Hirono said the manual offers ideas for employers to help workers with disabilities manage their work and demonstrate their strengths.
For example, the manual suggests that people with developmental disabilities communicate by email when handling important tasks and ask their supervisors to set priorities for them.
“People with developmental disabilities are able to perform tasks as long as they receive sufficient support,” she said, adding that she hopes companies will better understand such disabilities.
Hiroshi Ishibashi, a 35-year-old construction worker from Sakai in Osaka Prefecture, said he had changed jobs five times before joining his current company.
Despite his good sales record, Ishibashi said he found clerical duties difficult to perform and was often late to work.
While working for one of his former companies he would stay in the office until late at night to finish the work he could not complete during office hours, and he ended up staying overnight at Internet cafes near his workplace, he said.
He quit one company after a colleague threw an eraser at him, blaming him for causing trouble.
After Ishibashi explained his condition to his colleagues at his current company, they pitched in to help him, such as by checking important documents.
“It’s not so easy to gain other workers’ understanding,” Ishibashi said, adding that it is important for him to be aware of what he can and cannot do.
A copy of the manual can be downloaded at consul.piasapo.com/manual.