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Station staff and passengers urged to help visually impaired following fatal accidents

After a recent accident in which a blind man fell off a train platform onto the tracks and was fatally hit by a train, the heads of advocacy groups are calling for more assistance from station staff and other passengers so the visually impaired can safely ride trains.

    For the visually impaired, train station platforms are said to be like "bridges without railings." Between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2015 there were 481 cases of the visually impaired falling onto train tracks or coming into contact with moving trains. In a survey on the visually impaired carried out by the Mainichi Shimbun in December last year, 70 of the 222 respondents -- or 30 percent -- said they had fallen onto train tracks before.

    In the most recent incident, a 63-year-old blind man with a guide dog fell onto the tracks of the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line on Jan. 14 at Warabi Station in Saitama Prefecture, where he was fatally hit by an incoming train. Shoji Tanaka, 71, head of the National Counsel of Visual Disabled in Japan, says he has also previously fallen from a train platform onto the tracks. Although he had a guide dog with him, his mind was elsewhere at the time. Following the incident at Warabi Station, Tanaka says, "First of all, I want station employees, who are professionals, to look out for visually impaired passengers." He also says that he wants regular passengers to "not hesitate to reach out" to the visually impaired at stations.

    Nanae Gunji, 71, chairwoman of the All Japan Guide Dog Users Association, says, "A guide dog is not a super dog that can lead perfectly. The visually impaired will feel much more at ease if other passengers help them board trains."

    Advocacy groups recommend that to help a visually impaired person, one should first ask them if they need help, in a manner that does not startle them. Pulling on the visually impaired or on their cane when there is no immediate danger could cause them to lose their balance and fall.

    If the visually impaired person says they want help, one should walk with them to the place they want to go or the train they want to board. It is common to walk half a step ahead of them, on the side opposite to where their guide dog or cane is, and to let them hold onto one's arm or shoulder.

    During an emergency, such as when a visually impaired person is on the edge of a train platform, one should grab the person or call out to them. Just saying "Look out," could be misinterpreted as a warning directed at someone else, so one should address those in danger specifically as "You with the white cane," or "You with the guide dog."

    When a visually impaired person raises their white cane above their head, this is a sign that they want help from those around them. Visually impaired people using a guide dog instead of a cane may raise their hand and vocally ask for help. Many visually impaired people are said to share the feeling that they are often helped by other passengers.

    There were a number of incidents last year of the visually impaired falling onto tracks, and in December, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism called on train station employees to guide and assist visually impaired passengers when they see them walking alone at stations that don't have platform doors. However, East Japan Railway Company (JR East) said it had been unable to fully familiarize its employees with this recommendation. The ministry is to consult with the nation's rail companies on how they should educate their staff about helping visually impaired passengers.

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