The Strength of People: Embracing Differences, Conquering Challenges
The United Nations reports that there are around 200 million youth with disabilities worldwide. Often misunderstood by society, many disabled people suffer marginalization – excluded from many of the opportunities afforded to non-disabled individuals. Mitsubishi Electric and the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) have dedicated nearly three decades toward guaranteeing equal treatment for all. One manifestation of this was Mitsubishi Electric’s support for the film Intelligent Lives, debuting at film festivals and screenings from April 2018 and broadcast on American television in October 2019 – with ripples in society continuing to spread.
Since its establishment in 1991, MEAF has dedicated itself to providing a push for youth with disabilities as they strive to fully exhibit their untapped potential and comprehensively participate in society. The organization’s activities help youth with disabilities to cultivate leadership skills, assist them in exploring opportunities for meaningful, rewarding employment, and help to change people’s perception by encouraging them to focus not on their disabilities, but on their many strengths.
Intelligent Lives—narrated by award-winning actor Chris Cooper, whose son Jesse had cerebral palsy and passed away at the age of 17—briefly chronicles the challenges and successes of three young people with disabilities. Micah Fialka-Feldman co-teaches at Syracuse University in New York State; Naomie Monplaisir is transitioning to paid employment, and Naieer Shaheed is attending school, while pursuing his passion for painting. This film is the latest of numerous works from renowned producer and director Dan Habib that deal with disability-related issues. "I wanted to show that (youth with intellectual disabilities) can be fully involved in regular high schools, in college, in employment, in relationships," explains Habib. "So, by following Micah, Naieer, and Naomie, who are living these vibrant lives with disability, it shows a completely different way of navigating the world than our society expects."
MEAF has supported Habib’s work in the past, and was excited to back him on this new project. "Intelligent Lives challenges outdated notions of ‘intelligence’ by demonstrating the unique abilities every individual possesses," says Kevin Webb, MEAF senior director. "As an organization dedicated to empowering youth with disabilities to lead productive lives, the Foundation is proud to be a lead supporter of this endeavor."
To an Inclusive Society
In the nearly three decades of its existence, MEAF and Mitsubishi Electric US group company employees have provided more than US$20 million and 95,000 volunteer hours to help youth with disabilities maximize their potential and participation in society. The organization’s devotion to a better future has helped give direction, education and courage to countless youths as they make their mark in the world, and change the way they are viewed. MEAF’s efforts are instrumental in ensuring the global society is not robbed of one of its most precious resources—young people with imagination, passion, energy and talent.
In 2011, MEAF launched the national M>PWR initiative, the aim of which is to empower people with disabilities in their everyday lives. The foundation has invested US$5.2M in the initiative, to date, to support activities such as the expansion of employment opportunities, as well as to the production of Intelligent Lives.
Habib discovered during his initial research on the project that while 17% of intellectually disabled students are participating in regular education programs, only 40% of whom are expected to graduate from high school. A mere 15% of the estimated 6.5 million people in the United States with learning disabilities have secured employment. He hopes his film serves to "transform the label of intellectual disability from a life sentence of isolation into a unifying identity for millions of the most systematically segregated people in America."
Inclusion = Intelligent
Through such efforts, MEAF — and all of Mitsubishi Electric — is helping to give young people with disabilities more opportunities to shine as the valued members of society they are. These activities are also very much in line with Mitsubishi Electric’s drive to support the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as Good Health and Well-Being, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and Reduced Inequalities.
"Through the power of film," says Webb, "Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation is helping to make changes for the better by ensuring people with disabilities have access to inclusive, quality education; decent, competitive work opportunities; and the right to fully participate as equal contributing members of society." Naieer Shaheed states it more succinctly: "Inclusion happens when all kinds of people are together." As far as Mitsubishi Electric are concerned, that pretty much says it all.
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