ADHD Barrier Free Disability Japan

Japanese man with ADHD designs easy-access backpack for workers

Inspired by the hope that he might help even one person to stop losing important documents at work, a Tokyo resident with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has set about selling a bag with multiple functions that people like him can easily use.

From The Mainichi

June 21 2020

TOKYO — Inspired by the hope that he might help even one person to stop losing important documents at work, a Tokyo resident with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has set about selling a bag with multiple functions that people like him can easily use.

People with ADHD, a developmental disability, can have issues with keeping the items they carry with them organized. The man behind the bag, a 34-year-old resident of Shinjuku Ward, came up with the idea after his own experiences struggling to keep his work bag in order. Speaking to the Mainichi Shimbun, he described the difficulties that led him to take on the project, and the story of its development.

Originally from the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, the man struggled with daily tasks from a young age. He wasn’t good at communicating with friends, struggled to get up in the morning, and had difficulty preparing necessary items for certain tasks, among other difficulties. His circumstances led to him reportedly being absent from elementary and junior high school for more than half the time.

He went on to enter a local university after graduating high school, but decided to drop out after about a month of study. Next, he spent some two years studying while working in the prefecture, eventually being admitted to Waseda University, a prestigious private institution in Tokyo. The man said that he enjoyed his time at the university, but that a spontaneous hospital visit to discuss the difficulties he was having in day-to-day life came back with a diagnosis of ADHD.

Following his graduation from university, he took up a job at a major financial company. But soon he had to face up to his difficulties. He’d been overjoyed to get the job offer, and saw it as a chance to reshape his life. Yet, no sooner had the man started than he began to feel like there was no way he could do the work. Although the majority of his duties were clerical, he struggled to complete his tasks. “It was like I was in a group where I was the only person who could neither catch nor throw the ball,” he recalled. 

His alcohol intake went up, and his mental state also deteriorated, until he eventually left the company after around a year and a half. Next, he entered a venture to start a company with someone he knew, but a mistake he made put the company into debt of about 20 million yen (about $186,800). From then on, he began to refer to himself as “Mr. Debt” online, and would tweet about his work dissatisfactions.

Burdened by repayments, he was on the verge of having to accept welfare benefits when one of his business partners introduced him to a part-time sales job at a real estate firm. He was 30 years old and starting out in the business, but he was fortunate to have an understanding boss, and the man said he felt for the first time that he could enjoy his work. He added, “It was good to be in a job where you could get a sense of the results of the things you tried to do.”

But because the job required him to walk around with multiple files for a variety of customers, he also experienced difficulties. “Once I put all the different documents together, I then wouldn’t be able to sort them out by type,” he said. For that reason, he put each client’s details in separate binders, and would walk around carrying a lot of items wherever he went. “It was tough too when I just couldn’t remember where in my bag I’d put something,” he recalled.

Eventually the mood of his Twitter messages began to change, with posts emphasizing positive ways to adapt to one’s job crowding out the old complaints, such as, “If your work becomes fun, then ideas to refine it emerge, too.” At the time he had about 8,000 followers. His tweets caught the attention of an employee at major publishing firm Kadokawa Corp., and out of it came a deal to publish a book under the “Mr. Debt” penname, whose title translates roughly to “Amazing work hacks: how a person like me with a developmental disability became able to support themselves.”

In writing the book, he interviewed around 100 followers with developmental disabilities about their concerns and other issues around work. Their testimonials were then utilized in his 2019 project to sell a multipurpose work-bag that would be easy for people with ADHD to use. The item was subject to praise, and with many people telling him they wanted a backpack version, he set about developing the second form of the product.

The concept has three major points. They are that when opened the contents are easily visible with just a quick glance, items can be accessed with just one reach, and that the backpack has a substantial volume for things to be put in it. The final product measures about 41 centimeters high by 34 cm wide, with enough carrying space for it serve as an overnight bag.

On the reason why space is such a big focus for the project, the man explained, “For people with ADHD, it’s important for them to take whatever they think is useful and just throw it into their bags. It’s because, as long as an item is in your briefcase, you can’t forget it.” 

Generally, the bottoms of backpacks tend to fill up with things put in them, and they become difficult to find and retrieve when they do. With this in mind, the ADHD-friendly backpack was designed to be wider, making it look a bit like an attache case, and affording it a large opening that when undone completely reveals the inside of the bag.

On top of that, the interior is compartmentalized with inner pockets that items can be taken out from. The bag can also be propped up against a wall to confirm what’s in it easily. Because the internal compartments are made with a mesh material, they also allow the user to see what’s in them.

“The symptoms of people with developmental disabilities vary from person to person, so it was difficult finding concerns that are often shared, and what functions would be essential,” the man said. On his expectations for the backpack, he added, “Working now in real estate, and before when I was in banking, I had to write apologies for losing documents. If this bag can reduce the number of workers doing that by even just one person, I’d be happy.”

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