Fashion enthusiast Mana Yokoyama, wearing a light cream lace dress, strutted down the catwalk during a beauty pageant in Tokyo, hoping the experience would bring her a step closer to a fashion career.

But while she's as determined as her nondisabled counterparts, the 24-year-old Yokoyama is aware that as a person with autism she faces major hurdles in pursuit of her dream.

She is one of the thousands of people with disabilities seeking social acceptance and opportunities in a society where the disabled are often pushed to the margins.