One of the few bright spots in Japan’s economy is the increased hiring of people with disabilities. Hello Work job placement offices announced last week that they had helped nearly 53,000 disabled people find work in fiscal 2010. That’s the highest number finding work since fiscal 1970, when data started to be collected, and it’s a jump of 17 percent from the previous year.

Small and belated as the change may be in the context of the overall economy, it is a welcome change. Clearly many companies have become more willing to employ people with disabilities. Others should do the same. The added hiring is a sign that companies are opening up to accept employees who are able to do the work regardless of who they are as individuals.

Perhaps more important is that the number of disabled people seeking jobs also hit a record high of 132,700, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. Those applicants should be encouraged to continue to assert themselves.

Working is one of the most important factors to establish autonomy and dignity, which is especially true in a work-oriented society such as Japan.

A small revolution like this has the possibility of improving the notoriously uniform and excessively demanding Japanese workplace. Workplaces will have to become more flexible and fair-minded in order to accommodate various conditions.

Roughly one-third of successful job seekers have psychiatric disorders, half are physically disabled, and the others are mentally disabled, according to the report.

The conventional view has long been that workers must change themselves to adapt to the company. Now, a different attitude is emerging: Workplaces also must accommodate individuals with different characteristics. Japan’s future depends on its ability to handle diversification and still function well.

If such change continues, the future workplace in Japan may look very different. All workplaces need to be united in their goals and objectives, but they can still accomplish that with a wide variety of people.

Many disabled people are very competent at what they do; they deserve equal treatment, adjustments if needed, and access to their rightful place in society. Welcoming them to the workplace helps everyone.

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