The law promoting employment for people with disabilities obliges companies and government organizations to hire those with physical, intellectual or mental impairments for a certain portion of their workforce. The target was raised in April from 2 percent to 2.2 percent of total staff at firms that employ at least 46 workers, and from 2.3 percent to 2.5 percent at national and local government organs. The number of people with disabilities on the payroll in the private sector reached a record 495,000 as of June 2017, up 4.5 percent from a year earlier, and the government has set a target of increasing the number to 585,000 by 2022.

But challenges remain to achieve a steady rise in job opportunities for people with disabilities. They make up 1.97 percent of the workforce at companies obliged to meet the target. While roughly half of such companies have achieved the 2 percent goal, the other half have not — and the figure tends to decrease in accordance with the size of the company.

Compared with people with physical and intellectual disabilities, those with mental health issues tend to stay on the job for a shorter period. Both private sector companies and government organizations need to make further efforts to provide stable employment for people with disabilities that fit their specific conditions and make the best of their individual skills.

Under the law, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry seeks to ensure that all people, irrespective of disabilities, will be able to work according to their wishes and capabilities. The minimum ratio for companies and government organizations to hire people with disabilities will be raised further through fiscal 2020, and employers that fail to meet the target will have to pay contributions to a body linked to the ministry.

The social environment for employing people with disabilities appears to be improving as systems that offer them recruitment support have been beefed up. Of the 459,000 people with disabilities who are working, those with physical disabilities make up the largest portion at 333,000, followed by people with intellectual disabilities at 112,000 and some 50,000 with mental health problems.

According to a 2013 welfare ministry survey, people with mental problems stay on the job for an average of four years and three months — compared with 10 years among those with physical disabilities and seven years and nine months among those with intellectual disabilities. The conditions of people with such mental disorders as chronic depression and schizophrenia vary among individuals and can be unstable, and some people find it hard to work long hours at a stretch due to the effects of their medication. The challenge is to create a more flexible work environment in which people with varying conditions will be able to make the best use of their talent and skills on the job.

Willingness on the part of employers to hire people with disabilities seems to vary according to the size of the company. Large firms — those with more than 1,000 employees — hired people with disabilities at a 2.16 percent clip, while the figure fell to 1.6 percent among firms with 50 to 100 workers. Among industry sectors, businesses in the medical and welfare services field fill 2.5 percent of their payrolls with disabled people, but the rate is just 1.64 percent in the real estate sector and 1.59 percent in education.

It is believed that big companies with a broad range of activity can easily find jobs that fit the conditions and skills of people with disabilities, but this is tougher for smaller firms. It is also said that some of the jobs that used to be assigned to people with disabilities, such as janitorial work in buildings and factories, are declining as more companies outsource such tasks. Also, moves by some major companies to set up in-house cafe/restaurant services staffed by people with disabilities have garnered attention. An increasing number of businesses and government organizations are meanwhile beginning to allow their employees to work from home, making it easier to hire people with disabilities who may have difficulties with a daily commute.

To make sure that people with disabilities can give full play to their talent in the workplace, continued efforts will be required on the part of employers to provide a flexible environment that suits the varying conditions of individual workers.

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