TOMODACHI Disability Leadership Training Program in America


Our intensive five-month disability leadership and advocacy training takes place in Boston, Massachusetts. The goal of the program is to train the next generation of young Japanese people with disabilities to become stronger and more confident leaders.

The program engages trainees in a spectrum of activities:

  1. An intensive orientation to the program and life in Boston. You’ll also participate in cultural and educational activities.
  2. An internship where you’ll be matched with a local training site based on your individual interests and training needs. Examples of training sites are government agencies, non-governmental organizations, schools, research institutes, and businesses.
  3. Weekly leadership seminars where you’ll discuss your internship placement, explore experiences, and link those with the concepts of disability leadership and inclusion.
  4. English language training where you’ll improve your conversational and written skills. Deaf trainees may participate in American Sign Language training.

After graduating from the program, trainees contribute to communities in disability leadership roles. They also become mentors to future program participants.

The program is sponsored by the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private partnership between the U.S.- Japan Council and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, and Northrop Grumman, and implemented by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at UMass Boston, through partnership with TOMODACHI. Since the 1960s, the ICI has been a leader in disability inclusion and advocacy.


Five months (starting in July 2017 and ending in December 2017).
Maximum of two trainees.

July 28 Arrival in Boston
July 31–Aug. 11 Orientation to the TOMODACHI Program and life in Boston
Aug. 14–Dec. 8 Individual internship, English language/American Sign Language, weekly group supervision seminars
November 17 Draft of trainee final report due
December 15 Award ceremony: final presentations and program completion
December 19 Departure for Japan


To apply for this program, you must:

  1. Be a Japanese citizen with a disability who currently lives in Japan.
  2. Be between 18 and 35 years old, as of January, 2017.
  3. Be determined to contribute to the disability community in a leadership role.
  4. Be willing to a complete a ve-month-long disability leadership and advocacy training in Boston.
  5. Be able to identify a question, issue, or problem as the focus of your internship in Boston.
  6. Have basic English language skills (conversation, reading, and writing), or if you are Deaf, have basic English language reading and writing skills and, ideally, basic American Sign Language (ASL) skills.
  7. Be willing to become a mentor to other trainees and TOMODACHI alumni after completing the leadership training.

For those who need assistance with carrying out daily life activities and who are accepted into the program, costs for a personal care assistant will be covered up to the amount of US $1,500 per trainee for the entire training period. Trainees need to cover the rest. We will help trainees arrange personal care assistance in Boston.


What is the selection process?

A panel of U.S. and Japanese disability experts and ICI program staff will review all valid applications and select those individuals whose applications meet the program objectives.

Candidates will be invited to participate in a Skype interview. The interview has two parts: Part 1 of the interview will be ten minutes long, conducted in Japanese, and ask about your interests and goals for the leadership training. Part 2 will be a ve- to ten-minute test of your English language / American Sign Language (ASL) skills. The panel and ICI program staff will make nal decisions after interviewing all candidates.

How do you evaluate applicants?

We are looking for applicants who can describe their personal and professional disability leadership goals, and are able to explain how this program will help them achieve these goals.

I have a question about my application. Who can I contact?

If you have any questions about the application and selection process, contact Dr. Heike Boeltzig-Brown at, or Miwa Tanabe at


What expenses are covered, and what will I have to pay for?

The program will cover:

The trainee must pay for:

Where will I live?

Trainees live in communities in or around Boston. They live with either home-stay families or in apartments, arranged by the program.

Will the program provide the accommodations that I need?

The program covers the costs for a personal care assistant up to the amount of US $1,500 per trainee for the entire training period. Trainees need to cover the rest. We will help trainees arrange personal care assistance in Boston.

Will the training be conducted in English?

Yes. We expect trainees to have a basic understanding of English language or American Sign Language (ASL).

I am uent in English / American Sign Language (ASL). Do I still need to participate in the English-language or ASL courses?

You may not need to participate in English language or ASL courses, but we make this decision case by case.

Am I responsible for nding an internship site?

No. Our program will match trainees with internship sites. We will nd a placement for each trainee that will support his or her individual interests and training goals.

Will I be able to sightsee while I am in Boston?

The training program is full-time, but there are also opportunities for local sightseeing and travelling. Trainees have weekends free, and the program coordinator can suggest trips in and around Boston, Massachusetts, and New England.

Can I go on vacation within the United States or elsewhere during the training? What about visiting my family in Japan?

Trainees should expect to stay in the United States for the entire duration of the training.


What happens after the training?

You will receive a certi cate of completion, and you will serve as a mentor to future trainees and other TOMODACHI alumni. Mentors give presentations in Japan about what they learned during the program. They also make themselves available via phone and Skype to talk with other young Japanese people with disabilities.


Yui Awai

A fourth-year student at Waseda University in Tokyo.

For her independent project, Yui explored how students with disabilities in the US access college, how they advocate for themselves, and the role that college disability and career services play in helping students be more independent, successful in their academic studies, and prepared for careers and employment, as well as lessons learned for Japan.

Yui interned with the Disability Resource Center at Northeastern University.

“Japanese students with disabilities tend to be rather passive – not advocating for their needs at the office of disability student services. I’d like to change this as a person with a disability.”
— Yui Awai

Yui Awai

Toshiko Kudo

A former peer counselor at the Tachikawa Independent Living Center in Tokyo.

Toshiko’s independent project focused on creating public transportation systems that are accessible to diverse groups of users, including persons with a range of disabilities. Toshiko was particularly interested in the role that disability advocacy organizations and individual disability leaders play in improving public transportation in the US, how this compares with Japan, and what the US and Japan might learn from each other in this area.

Toshiko interned with the Department of System-Wide Accessibility at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

“How have leaders with disability gained awareness and contributed to their community? If there are disability issues, people with disability should be taking a lead.”
— Toshiko Kudo

Toshiko Kudo

Tomomi Takata

A network engineer at Avinton Japan in Tokyo.

For her independent project, Tomomi investigated the practical application of universal design to make public physical spaces, such as walking trails, playgrounds, and community centers, accessible to all, and the role of disability stakeholders in this process. Tomomi compared what she learned with the situation in Japan, drawing out “lessons learned” for both countries.

Tomomi interned with the Institute for Human Centered Design / New England ADA Center.

“I recognized how important it was to raise our voice of concerns to make an impact on our society. There is a meaningful role we people with disability can play.”
— Tomomi Takata

Tomomi Takata


About the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI)

About UMass Boston

About Northrop Grumman Corporation

About the TOMODACHI Initiative:


Dr. Heike Boeltzig-Brown

Program Director

Miwa Tanabe

Program Coordinator