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Many train stations remain dangerous for the blind in Tokyo

Mitsugu Fujii waits for a train near the wall of a station in Tokyo's Chuo Ward to avoid collisions with other passengers. Since the fatal accident, more people have helped him, he says. (Mainichi)

In August, 55-year-old visually impaired man Naoto Shinada, who had been walking with a guide dog at Aoyama-itchome Station on the Tokyo Metro's Ginza Line, fell onto the tracks and was killed by a train. The accident brought into the focus the fact that for those with visual disabilities, station platforms can be like bridges without railings.

    Sept. 15 marked one month since the accident. A survey by an organization for the blind showed that there remain many stations in the Tokyo Metropolitan area that visually impaired people consider dangerous.

    At around 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 13, Kachidoki Station on the Toei Oedo Line in Tokyo's Chuo Ward remained busy with a flurry of commuters.

    "When there are few people around, I can't get anyone to help me when I'm in trouble. And then when there are lots of people, there's the danger of colliding. It's a dilemma," says 63-year-old visually impaired commuter Mitsugu Fujii.

    Fujii is a department head at the Japan Federation of the Blind. He travels via the subway from his home in Tokyo's Chuo Ward to the federation headquarters in Shinjuku Ward.

    "I worked out a commuting route with help from my wife, who doesn't have a disability," he says. Rather than focusing on commuting time, he places importance on safety when changing trains. Kachidoki Station has installed barriers along the platform.

    "Of course I took into consideration whether the station had barriers. I also wanted to avoid stations that get crowded," he says.

    After the accident that claimed Shinada's life, the Japan Federation of the Blind conducted an emergency survey asking the visually impaired about train stations, and received responses from 57 people. It listed 55 stations (including 16 subway stations) in Tokyo considered dangerous for the visually impaired. At the top of the list as the most dangerous was Iidabashi Station on the JR Chuo and Sobu lines (10 responses). Respondents pointed out that the platform is curved, which creates a gap between the platform and the train. Next was Shinjuku Station on the JR Yamanote and Chuo lines (eight responses). Reasons for its danger included, "You bump into pillars when walking on the studded tiles (for the blind)."

    The most common requests respondents had for railway operators were "install platform doors" (27 requests) and "increase the number of railway safety observers" (12 requests).

    Tokyo Metro Co. is gradually installing barriers with doors on its station platforms, and it has now started reviewing which stations to give priority. It also plans to increase the number of safety guards or shift their placement based on the use of stations by the visually impaired and other factors.

    A public relations official for the railway operator commented, "We'd like to put the opinions of those with visual disabilities to use in preventing the recurrence of accidents."

    This month, five organizations including the Japan Federation of the Blind and the All Japan Guide Dog Users Association set up a liaison council to exchange information. They are poised to conduct their own survey of dangerous stations, and suggest measures to railway operators and the government.

    Yoshiki Takeshita, chairman of the Japan Federation of the Blind, commented, "We must not allow a repeat of an accident like the latest one (in August), and we have to use it as a lesson." He added, "The cooperation of people in general is important in securing safety. I want to further convey the fact that guide dogs can't do everything, along with the importance of people calling out (to guide the visually impaired)."

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