“I can do it, and I will be brave in my attempt!”
Meet Hanako Sawayama, a decorated athlete who has spent almost three decades advocating for the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. She is a full-time employee of Special Olympics Asia Pacific serving as an administrative assistant as well as an advisor on the Regional Athlete Input Council. Want to be her ally and join her in creating a more inclusive world? Let’s take the first step by getting a glimpse into her typical day.
Question: What is your routine before work?
Answer: I turn on my laptop, make a cup of coffee and drink a jar of water with lemon that makes me feel refreshed. I make my breakfast, which is usually bread toast and aloe vera yogurt. After breakfast, I’m off to start my day!
Question: We hear you are an amazing cook. Can you share your favorite recipes with us?
Answer: My family and friends love my white stew, a Japanese dish with potatoes, carrot, broccoli, and chicken. It’s super healthy and an excellent choice if you’re looking for a balanced meal for lunch. I serve it with a baguette. I also love cooking Japanese curry rice, miso soup, and fried noodles. Another one of my special dishes is mapo tofu with eggplant. I love cooking for my family over the weekends or on special occasions!
Question: What do you love about your job?
Answer: The best part of my job is that I communicate, advise and work together with my team. My voice is heard and respected. Teamwork is very important to me and my colleagues. I feel empowered to be able to contribute meaningfully. Just like everyone else, I work hard for my salary and I’m independent!
Question: What are the challenges you face at your job? How do you overcome them?
Answer: Sometimes, I struggle with instructions that are unclear. I believe that communication is imperative. I bravely voice my problems and seek solutions together with the team. Even when things get stressful, I remind myself to relax and focus on doing good work.
Question: What are some examples of how your colleagues make you feel included at work? Answer: I work closely with my team to advocate for the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. As a team, we reach out to companies to help them understand more about the work and impact of the Special Olympics. My colleagues support me with my speeches and presentations, while always taking into consideration my views and opinions. I feel confident in sharing my ideas during team meetings. I volunteer to take photographs during events and help with coordination and logistics. When new colleagues join our family, I introduce Special Olympics to them during their orientation and help them feel welcome, just like my colleagues did for me.
Question: What do you think is the biggest bias against people with intellectual disabilities? Answer: Society thinks that we cannot do anything, we cannot play sports or lead meaningful lives. That’s not true. There are over 6 million athletes with intellectual disabilities within the Special Olympics movement globally and we participate in 32 Olympic-type sports and 100,000competitions and games yearly. We can do anything we set our minds to! As for me, apart from being a swimmer and a bowler, I also coach, I cook, I’m a great photographer, a public speaker, an advocate, and I earn my own keep to lead an independent life. There are no differences between you and me, we are all the same. We have hopes and dreams. We are human beings too.
Question: What is your aspiration for the future?
Answer: My hope is to see people with intellectual disabilities take on leadership roles across the world. When given the chance to shine in an inclusive environment, we can speak up for ourselves and lead with empathy and compassion. I hope for an environment where people with and without ID can work together as a team and empower each other to speak up freely and lead the way. On a more personal note, I also hope to have my own place one day and be a proud and independent homeowner.
Question: What is your message for potential employers for people with ID?
Answer: I hope that all employers will look closely at the type of roles, opportunities, career growth, and training for people with ID, in order to create meaningful employment. Do not hire us simply to fulfill a diversity quota. Foster an inclusive work environment and culture among all employees. Make your requests and questions to us simple. If you can, create easy-to-read guides and materials for us to understand the company, job, and tasks better. I appreciate companies that are willing to hire people with ID, but learning how to communicate with us and give us tasks effectively will go a long way.
Question: What message do you have for people with ID looking to get a job?
Answer: Be yourself and be confident. Remind yourself of the Special Olympics Athlete Oath- ‘Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt!’
Hanako fights for a more inclusive world every single day. Will you join her on her journey? Follow @humanraceasia and @soasiapacific to find out more! Your contribution and your voice are immensely valuable to us.