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Exploring Care for People with Disabilities: Meridian Howes ’17 at Suisen Fukushikai in Osaka, Japan

For my fourth/language immersion co-op I am living in Osaka, Japan. Here I am working at an organization called Suisen Fukushikai which is a welfare agency that works with various groups of people, such as children, the elderly, and people with disabilities. I am currently working at a day center for people with disabilities called Kazenoko Sodachien. Here, my work consists mainly of doing activities with clients, including cooking, playing games, going on field-trips, assisting with various therapy activities, and many other odd-jobs.

The center runs on a different philosophy than most other day centers for people with disabilities that I know of. For example, clients are encouraged to be self-sufficient and autonomous. As such, they are allowed to go wherever they want within the center, and there are no locked doors or off-limits locations (even the front door remains unlocked). In addition, clients are allowed to handle knives for kitchen prep work. Clients are also not forced to do anything they do not want to do, and there are rarely power struggles between staff and clients as a result. Clients are allowed to choose the activities they would like to do, and there is usually a variety available. Activities also stress learning life skills such as cooking and baking, and encourage interacting with others which clients may not be otherwise encouraged to do.

In general, the center works to construct an environment that encourages wellbeing. For example, they provide multiple types of music therapy weekly, massages, dental care, and some truly amazing food. Below is an example of the lunches we are served, which are made fresh daily with mostly organic ingredients and no additives.

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Overall, what I have learned from this co-op so far is that the way clients are treated greatly impacts the quality of their lives. At this center, I have observed that clients are treated with much respect (which unfortunately is not as common as it should be). This shows in how they are more active and excited to come to the center each day. It also shows in how clients do not leave the center until the end of the day, even though the door is open and they would be able to do so.

Currently, I am interested in disability rights and activism, and this organization has given me insight into how centers can be constructed with care for client’s rights and wellbeing in mind. Unfortunately, this is not typical of most centers for people with disabilities, and in the future I am interested exploring how change can be made so that these types of centers provide better care for clients in ways that encourage them to be themselves instead of trying to force clients into neurotypical molds. Overall, I am learning about ways that centers can work to be truly respectful and accepting of their clients, and I hope to share what I have learned upon return to the U.S.

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