Inclusive Space welcomes the mentally challenged

Li Qian
The Shanghai Daily project "iDEALCafe2022: Inclusive Space" works with corporations and coffee shops to help mentally disabled youth integrate into society.
Li Qian

Shot by Jiang Xiaowei and Li Qian. Edited by Jiang Xiaowei and Li Qian. Subtitles by Li Qian and Ma Xinyi.

Liu Jiameng's expression hardened when she was instructed to fold garbage bags large enough to fit a small girl.

A restless Liu started swilling water and slumping over her arms, even blaming her friend Chen Zhangyu for the mess.

Chen, equally impatient, yelled back: "There is still so much to be done. It makes my head spin."

For the majority of people, folding something large in half or into thirds is simple, but for those with mental disabilities, it can be difficult.

They didn't give up, however. They agreed to clear the work cards from their necks and rolled up their sleeves to finish the work.

"We like this. It enables us to earn our own living. We want to stay and work here."

Inclusive Space welcomes the mentally challenged
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Chen Zhangyu (left) and Liu Jiameng (right) learn to sort notebooks at the JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square.

They are two of the four upcoming graduates from Huangpu Special Education Vocational School who are receiving vocational training under a program offered by Marriott International.

The program is part of the "iDEALCafe2022: Inclusive Space" project, launched by Shanghai Daily in collaboration with coffee shops and multinational corporations, which provides vocational training to students with autism, Down syndrome and other mental disabilities in an effort to ease their transition into the workforce and societal integration.

The project was introduced in August. The first student, Yin Ming, is doing his internship as a barista at Coffee Commune.

A micro-documentary about his life, "A Cup of Miracle," will be released soon.

Liu and Chen, the second group of students, are receiving training at the JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square, while two others are at The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong. The training program includes room service and uniform issues. The program started last month and will last till December.

"The project fits the company's sustainability and social impact platform, Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction," said Cecilia Ieong, vice president of human resources, Marriott International China. "We hope that our hotels can assist these exceptional youngsters to grow and realize their potential through vocational training."

Inclusive Space welcomes the mentally challenged
Ti Gong

Yang Tianhao receives vocational training at The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong.

Jude Du, director of services at the JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square, claims that the two children are on a training program that has been particularly tailored to their needs.

"Now they sort and distribute disposable items like tea bags, shampoos and shower gels with the housekeeper," he said. "We can see their personalities from how they perform the most basic tasks, and we can discover what they are good at and adjust the training regime accordingly."

Helen Long, a store clerk and housekeeping administrator at the JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square, said that they enjoyed "sorting tea bags, but struggled to fold garbage bags."

Liu acknowledged it but said, "We can accomplish it."

Long concurred as well, saying, "Sometimes they are just getting impatient. They can do it ... I'm hopeful of training them to become competent in room service."

Long has observed their dedication at work.

"They are willing to be trained. They are interested in it. They are willing to get integrated into society," she said. "We have to be more patient with them. They are part of our society."

Just as Danny Parnack said, "Embracing differences, and diversity is a big part of our culture."

The general manager of the JW Marriott Hotel Shanghai at Tomorrow Square quoted a Chinese proverb that it is important to "teach people how to fish rather than provide them."

"Providing the students with the right skills they need to succeed," he said, adding that the hotel was a melting pot of different people, a perfect place for them to learn professional awareness and social skills.

Shanghai-based coffee shops Hinichijou and MQ Coffee have also agreed to partner with Shanghai Daily to offer students with mental disabilities more opportunities to get integrated into society and realize their abilities.

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