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Supporters for the visually impaired call for better safety measures after deadly train accident

An association for the visually impaired is calling for help to keep the visually impaired safe at train stations after a man recently fell onto subway tracks while walking with his guide dog and was fatally run over.

According to sources including the Akasaka Police Station and Tokyo Metro Co., at around 5:45 p.m. on Aug. 15, 55-year-old Naoto Shinada of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, fell from the Ginza Line tracks at Aoyama-itchome Station and was run over and killed by a train. Shinada worked at a company near the station and is thought to have been on his way home. The train platform was equipped with raised tiles to guide the blind, but was not equipped with platform doors.

Shinada lived in Hokkaido until this past spring. According to the Hokkaido Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, which trained Waffle-Go, the 4-year-old female Labrador retriever that was with Shinada, the animal was his second guide dog. After training the dog for about seven months the association lent Waffle-Go to Shinada at the end of May 2014. For Shinada's move to Tokyo, a trainer from the association accompanied him to check for dangerous areas near his new home and along his way to and from work.

The association's Takafumi Wada, 50, who is head of a guide dog training center, says he taught Shinada and the dog that when they were on a train platform Shinada should walk on the platform side and the dog walk on the train tracks side. Security camera footage showed that Shinada was walking in the opposite way, with himself on the tracks side. The reason for this is unknown, but Wada speculates, "At subway stations it is easy for sound to bounce, and there are many people coming and going, so it's possible he lost his sense of direction."

The Japan Federation of the Blind, composed of 61 associations, is also taking the accident seriously. Chairman Yoshiki Takeshita says, "It is rare for someone to fall (onto the tracks) when they have a guide dog. I'm shocked."

When the federation conducted a poll of the visually-impaired in 2011, of the 252 responses it received, 92 people, or 37 percent, said they had experienced falling from a train platform, and 151 people, or 60 percent, said they had experienced almost falling from a train platform. The reasons chosen, with it possible to select multiple answers, included "I didn't know what direction I was going," chosen by 80 people, and "I couldn't find the raised tiles," chosen by 56 people. In response to the question of how falls could be prevented, the most chosen response, with multiple answers again possible, was "installing platform doors," chosen by 228 people.

The federation says, "What problems were there in what the man did, in what the dog did and with the station facilities? (To answer these and) for the sake of people around the country who use guide dogs, there has to be an investigation." It plans to investigate the accident with the cooperation of Tokyo Metro.

Tokyo Metro is moving forward with the installation of platform doors and guide tiles for the blind, but the doors are heavy, and platforms that aren't strong enough will need to be reinforced to support them. The company has finished installing doors on four of its nine lines, but the completion of installation on the Ginza Line isn't expected until fiscal 2021.

Tokyo Metro has encouraged its employees to obtain certification as a "service care worker" who can help the elderly and people with physical disabilities, but has not included providing help to the visually impaired in its training for this. Following the Aug. 15 accident, the company sent memos to relevant departments to be proactive in reaching out to the visually impaired.

The deadly accident has also sent shockwaves among people who use guide dogs. Susumu Matsui, 45, of Matsudo, Chiba Prefecture, who has experienced falling from a train station platform in the past, says, "Train platforms are so dangerous, they have been referred to as bridges without handrails. This is an issue that directly involves people losing their lives, so I want there to be more platform doors installed."

He added, "I want people to actively reach out to help visually-impaired people if they see them moving toward the tracks. It will help if they lightly touch those people on the shoulder or arm and warn them that it is dangerous."

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