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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Charlotte Schäfer

Charlotte Schäfer
Japanese Studies, Disability Studies
Since April 2019
(PhD Students, April 1, 2019 - December 31, 2019)

Autism in Japanese Employment

Disability is the result not of physical or mental impairments, but of societal attitude towards disabled persons. Under the social model of disability, researchers in disability studies have called for a change in infrastructure, in the dialogue surrounding mental health and mental illness, and in the working conditions for disabled people. Rendering our society barrier free is a crucial aspect of combating isolation and allowing disabled people to participate with dignity in our society.

Demographic changes, women’s labour movements and globalization have brought about structural changes in the Japanese labour market. Within the context of these changes, I focus on autistic employees in Japan, as they are part of the larger society, yet simultaneously separate from it. Autistic people use divergent communication strategies and have difficulty adapting to dominant societal structures; as such, they challenge our intrinsic understanding of accepted social norms and behaviour. The encounter between autistic person and non-autistic society creates conflicts, which I hope will allow me a new perspective on Japanese society: What makes a person healthy and what makes them disabled? Which behaviours does the Japanese society expect from its participants and how does it penalize divergent behaviour?

Paid employment is an essential aspect of the lives of most adults; however, to date, research on the employment of autistic persons remains scarce. I therefore plan to speak to the autistic actors themselves to allow them to discuss their experiences using their own voices. I will use problem-centred interviews and participant observation in disability workshops and artisanal shops hoping to learn from autistic employees on their experiences in the Japanese labour market, on the barriers they have faced, the support they have received, their own needs towards the workplace, as well as their perception of their own role as a disabled person in a still fundamentally ableist society.

Selected Publications


(exp. mid 2019). Nihon no jiheishōsha to koyō no jōtai [Autistic People and the Employment Situation in Japan]. As part of the 2018 Intellectual Exchange Programme between Japan and Europe in Alsace. Japanese Study Seminar “Transfiguration of employment at the time of globalization and technical innovation: A question about Japanese employment practice in the present and the future” (グローバル化と技術革新の時代における雇用の変貌:日本型雇用慣行の現在・将来を問う). with Klemens SCHÄFER, Eileen HAAGE and Jan NAKAYAMA-MÜHLENBERND (2014). „Der Brief aus dem Zementfass.“
In: Goyama Rintarō (Ed.) Tagengo hon’yaku – Hayama Yoshiki – „Semento taru no naka no tegami“ [Multilingual Translation – Hayama Yoshiki – „Letter in a Cement Barrel“]. Osaka: Osaka University Graduate School of Letters.

Curriculum Vitae

since 04/2018
PhD candidate, Japanese studies, Heidelberg University

09/2016 - 04/2017
Supply Chain Manager, Shin-Etsu Rare Earth Magnets, Frankfurt

10/2014 - 08/2015
Exchange student to Osaka University

09/2012 - 04/2016
Master of Arts, Conference Interpreting (German, Japanese, English), Heidelberg University

06/2011 - 09/2014
Teacher’s Assistant, Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” and Japanese Studies Library

10/2010 - 03/2011
Exchange student to Tokyo Gakugei University

10/2008 - 08/2012
Bachelor of Arts, Japanese Studies (major) and Sociology, Heidelberg University