Deaf documentary film director's essay #2

Movies for an all-inclusive society

DENSO’s Nakagawa’s Three Proposals
by Ayako Imamura*

Last month I wrote about deaf and hard-of-hearing university students and guaranteeing that these students get all the necessary information from university lectures. This guarantee of information, however, is not just a problem at universities, but a problem for deaf people throughout their lives, especially since ‘working’ is what takes up most of a person’s life.

Compared to not too long ago, the number of deaf people working at various companies has increased. But even though deaf people may be employed at various companies, it is still rare for them to have interpreters at company meetings, and in addition, deaf employees aren’t really able to sufficiently enjoy even talking with the hearing employees during break times. Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees seem to be just working silently everyday in an environment where it is difficult for them to get information and communicate.

As a result, deaf and hard-of-hearing people often feel isolated, estranged, and/or depressed at work, and it is saddening to hear that the number of cases where deaf people are forced to unwillingly quit their jobs is increasing. And now, when companies value profit more than anything else, it seems that the working conditions are becoming more difficult not only deaf employees, but for hearing employees as well.

That is what made me think that I would like to make a documentary about companies where both deaf and hearing employees are working together positively to create a good working environment, so that people who see the documentary would feel the courage and energy to keep trying.  And so I decided to make “Salaryman”, and when making this documentary I met people and saw things that also gave me the courage to carry on.

There are about 260 deaf people working at DENSO Corporation in Aichi Prefecture. I talked with Ms. Nakagawa Hiroko who works in the personnel department at DENSO’s Takatana Plant. Because Ms. Nakagawa took care of deaf employees in the company dormitory, she studied sign language, and while living and working with her deaf colleagues, she became skillful at sign language, and eventually came to consult with the deaf employees about their problems at the plant. She felt that the reason why there were problems between deaf and hearing employees was mainly because of communication problems, and she made three proposals for the company to undertake at the Takatana Plant.

One thing she suggested was special study sessions. Most hearing employees had never come in contact with deaf people before, so they didn’t know how to communicate with deaf people. First, then, she thought that hearing employees needed to understand more about deaf people, so she started special study sessions where deaf employees, along with interpreters, would be able to talk with hearing employees.

Next she set up special educational courses for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees. She developed classes where deaf and hard-of-hearing employees could learn new skills using
cameras and screens and other visual aids that would make the learning easier for them. The deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, who before had sat passively when they didn’t understand something, were very happy and became very positive in their approach to their work.

The next thing she did was to develop a video sign language dictionary. Ms. Nakagawa and some deaf employees made a video dictionary of the technical terms used at DENSO, and employees were able to access the dictionary and the moving sign language images on the company computers. It was so popular that within a month of its availability, it was accessed more than four thousand times.

Ms. Nakagawa thought for these kinds of measures to really have any influence they would have to become part of the system, so she submitted a research proposal to the company, and her proposal was accepted. Her three proposals became part of the company system, and sign language interpreters were supplied at all company events and individual conferences.

When there are more and more companies where each and every individual is able to work to the best of his/her ability, it will result in a society where each and every individual is able to live a happy and fruitful life. That is what I felt through making the documentary "Salaryman”.

*Ayako wrote an originally Japanese essay for a pamphlet titled "Hataraku Hiroba," published in June, 2010, which was translated by William John Herlofsky, a professor of the Foreign Languages Department of Nagoya Gakuin University.

English original essay in Ayako's Japanese blog:

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