Sustainability Files : Supporting the Independence and Social Participation of Individuals with Disabilities : Panasonic's Challenge to Create a Kind Society for All

The Paralympic Games is the most prominent sporting event for athletes with disabilities in the world and is held after the Olympic Games, in the same city and venues. The Paralympic Games have touched hearts around the world. Panasonic Corporation, on October 15, 2014, signed an Official Worldwide Paralympic Partnership agreement with the International Paralympic Committee for six years and two months, from 2014 through 2020. Underlying this is Panasonic's strong commitment to support the independence and social participation of individuals with disabilities in several ways. In addition to this partnership agreement, we would like to introduce some of our many initiatives, such as our products that help to improve the lives and activities of individuals with disabilities, and our workplaces that allow employees with disabilities to play key roles. Panasonic's challenge is to create a kind society for all.

Panasonic Signed Official Worldwide Paralympic Partnership Agreement with the International Paralympic Committee

For 16 years, from the Nagano 1998 Paralympic Winter Games to the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Panasonic has supplied audiovisual equipment and related services to the Paralympic Games, through which Panasonic has contributed to the peace and prosperity of the world community as well as to the promotion of sports for athletes with disabilities.

Official Worldwide Paralympic Partner

In the new agreement, in addition to the existing Audiovisual Equipment category, Panasonic's sponsorship categories for the Worldwide Paralympic Partnership have been expanded to include such disability care products as The Shower and the Wearable Powered Suit. Panasonic, through its products, services, and technical assistance, will offer versatile support to the athletes and the operations of the Paralympic Games.

Since the founding of our company in 1918, we have evolved together with our customers, always making people and their lives central to our activities. It is in Panasonic’s DNA to create “people-friendly” products. We seek a world in which everyone can enjoy a life that is sustainable, safe, and comfortable. We believe it is our mission to provide products and services that can be used comfortably by a wide range of people, irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity, or physical ability.

With our products and services, and in conjunction with the Paralympic partnership, Panasonic will keep providing accessibility for all around the world, including for those with disabilities and the aged.

Products to Help Improve the Lives and Activities of Individuals with Disabilities

These aid-related products have been recently classified as Worldwide Paralympics Sponsor Category products. The following are some examples of products developed using Panasonic's extensive technologies and knowledge:

The Shower

―A shower with the thermal benefits of a bath―
In October 1996, Panasonic began to market the “Za Shower,” a product that offered a completely new way of bathing. (Za means “seat” or “chair” in Japanese.)

This new method allowed one to easily and quickly bathe with very little stress on the body. Its use was not only limited to the elderly, however; it has been well received by others who have difficulty in bathing, such as individuals with health concerns like heart disease and high blood pressure, pregnant women, and others. Many people have used it. In addition, it can also assist those responsible for bathing others, which is physically demanding work. With the installation of the Za Shower, it is possible to bathe while sitting in a bathing wheelchair, without having to climb over the lip of a bathtub. Employees who work in the nursing care industry, such as in hospitals and healthcare facilities for the elderly, are very pleased with the product.

Relaxed showering in sitting on a chair / Quick showering in standing during a busy time

In its development, we conducted research into lifestyles, as there was not a great deal of data available prior to 1996 on bathing. We also conducted joint research with public research institutions, and we have been able to steadily advance the verification of benefits along the way. Furthermore, on the path to commercializing this product, we have come to recognize that many more of our customers have difficulty in bathing than we first expected. The experience we gained from this research led us to the development of other products—not simply the development and improvement of the Za Shower—that can also be used by those restricted to a wheelchair and by others.

Moreover, while this product was developed with the elderly and the nursing care industry in mind, the expectation and philosophy of wanting to create a product that can be used by the entire family led to the creation of a new market.

In 2014, after reconsidering the concept of an alternative to bathing that would warm the whole body, the product was renewed as “The Shower,” which would enable a great many people to enjoy showering. It extends the bathing options of those who wish to shower every morning or those who wish to only take to a shower yet warm their bodies as if they had taken a bath. Through a mechanism that widely and uniformly diffuses water from the extendible arm of a faucet, The Shower allows the user—either sitting or standing—to enjoy a warm shower that is soft on the skin and envelops the entire body, all while consuming approximately the same amount of water as a regular shower. In addition, depending on the shower style, the user can choose an optional folding chair. The shower can be installed in a variety of locations, residences, and facilities.

In this way, we present to the world the culture of the “New Shower Bath,” realizing a universal design that can be used by young and old, by men and women, and by those with or without disabilities. We will continue to provide useful products such as these to the market as we progress into the future.

Wearable Powered Suit

Reducing the burden of physically demanding work, expanding employment opportunities, and alleviating labor shortages

Activelink Co., Ltd., a Panasonic Group company, is pursuing its research and development in breaking down the walls of age, gender, and physical strength to create a “barrier-free society,” with the aim of bringing to the world devices that “augment human strength.” Currently, verification testing under various conditions of use is ongoing.

 The POWERLOADER light PLN-01, nicknamed the NINJA, is an assistive walking device. As the wearer starts to walk, the motor assists in moving the wearer’s legs forward naturally. This allows users to not only walk on flat ground but also assists them in walking up stairs and inclines.

The AWN-02 Assist Suit device reduces the physical burden on the user's body when lifting and lowering heavy loads, such as in cargo handling at distribution worksites. With position sensors detecting the movements of the trunk, the AWN-02 operates motors at the lower back in accordance with the user's intended movements, reducing the burden on the user's lower back when loading and unloading cargo by drawing up the upper body and maintaining the upper body position when lifting heavy objects.

These technologies are also expected to be used in public welfare fields, such as rehabilitation, and we continue to examine their future possibilities.

The PLN-01 POWERLOADER Light, which assists with walking
The AWN-02 Assist Suit, which reduces the physicalburden of cargo loading and unloading Lifting the upperbody (left) Maintaining the upper body in the same posture(right)

Creating Workplaces that Allow Employees with Disabilities to Play Key Roles

The Panasonic Group employs people who, regardless of their physical capabilities, are creative and resourceful in simultaneously pursuing two objectives: sustaining growth in business performance and achieving self-fulfillment through their work.

As of June 2014, the number of employees with disabilities represented 2.16% of Panasonic Corporation's workforce in Japan. On a total Group basis, this figure was 2.18%, higher than the national average of 1.82% and the legally mandated quota of 2.0%.

In addition, in collaboration with communities and local governments, Panasonic operates seven subsidiaries (*) that are jointly owned with public sector partners for the purpose of employing those with severe disabilities. The facilities at subsidiaries such as Panasonic Kibi Co., Ltd. (Okayama) or Panasonic Katano Co., Ltd. (Osaka), which assemble electric equipment, are designed for those with disabilities. These facilities include the placement of parts and materials, as well as adjustments to work surfaces, to suit the physical needs of wheelchair users. We actively welcome participants in trainee programs and employees from other companies to learn from our experience.

(*) seven subsidiaries: Panasonic Kibi Co., Ltd. (Okayama); Panasonic Katano Co., Ltd. (Osaka); Panasonic Associates Shiga Co., Ltd. (Shiga); Panasonic Ecology Systems Kyoei Co., Ltd. (Osaka); Sanyo Heart Ecology, Co., Ltd. (Osaka, others); Harima SANYO Industry Co., Ltd. (Hyogo); Sendai SANYO Industry Co., Ltd. (Tottori)

Established in 1998, Sanyo Heart Ecology Co., Ltd. has as its corporate philosophy, "Achieving coexistence and becoming a company that is kind to people and the environment." The company is committed, through its environmental and horticultural businesses, to creating workplaces that consider the issues facing individuals with disabilities—especially intellectual disabilities—in becoming independent participants in society.

 One of these businesses deals with cultivating and selling tropical orchids. This business model was recognized as a Good Design during the 2011 Good Design Awards (**), for its "design for a moth orchid business that supports the independence of individuals with disabilities" in the "Design for social contribution activity" category.

(**) The Good Design Award is operated by the Japan Institute of Design Promotion. The institute builds comfortable lives and guides the safe development of industry through brilliant design.

 Until now, cultivating moth orchids was extremely difficult for non-experts. Revising the process to split work up into simple tasks has allowed us to establish a process that does not require advanced cultivation skills. In addition to increasing the scope of work that employees with intellectual disabilities can engage in, this also maintains consistent work quality and improves efficiency. Establishing a framework that consistently produces relatively uniform products at a high level of quality throughout the year was recognized as a sustainable business design that allows workers with impairments to play key roles.

The SANYO Heart Ecology Co., Ltd. orchid growingbusiness, which was recognized with a 2011 Good DesignAward
Creating a jig used to standardize the work of preparing flower pots