September 22, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Harassment of visually-impaired people shameful
社説:視覚障害と社会 無関心という罪の重さ

A girl at a high school for visually-impaired students in Saitama Prefecture suffered serious injuries that are expected to take three weeks to heal after being kicked in the leg by a man from behind at a train station on Sept. 8.

The victim, who is completely blind, was using a white stick and walking on Braille blocks at the time of the incident. 生徒は全盲のため白杖(はくじょう)をつき、点字ブロック上を歩いていた。

She obviously not only suffered physical pain but also was horrified.
Based on testimonies provided by eyewitnesses as well as other information, police are questioning a man in his 40s, who is intellectually handicapped, as a suspect on a voluntary basis. Police should thoroughly get to the bottom of the incident.

The latest case has highlighted how many obstacles visually-impaired people face when they walk outside.

An organization representing visually-impaired people says it is a daily occurrence that such people have their white sticks broken after colliding with other people or objects, or they are subjected to verbal abuse.

In April this year, a blind woman who was sitting on a bench at a supermarket in Kobe suffered a broken bone in her face after being hit by a man who stumbled over her leg.

The man under arrest over the case was quoted as telling investigators, "I was furious after stumbling over her leg."

For what purpose are there white sticks and Braille blocks?

While there are growing calls for achieving a society in which people with and without handicaps can coexist, there are too many people who do not pay attention to difficulties that visually-impaired people are facing in society.

The Road Traffic Act requires visually-impaired people to carry a white or yellow stick or be accompanied by a guide dog when they walk along roads.

Their sticks are not just tools but also a kind of life rope that serve as their eyes or legs.

Braille blocks are plates with projections that visually-impaired people can sense with the bottoms of their feet.

Local governments across the country are pressing forward with the installation of Braille blocks on sidewalks, at railway stations and other public places in accordance with their respective ordinances.

Braille blocks were invented in Japan in 1965.

Such blocks were first laid in Okayama Prefecture, and have since spread to over 150 countries.

Despite the history of Braille blocks, people frequently park their cars or bicycles on the blocks or lay their baggage on them. Many pedestrians are indifferent to Braille blocks.

It is easy to imagine that if pedestrians operate their smartphones while walking, they may overlook and bump into visually-impaired people with sticks.

Relevant legislation has gradually come into force and society is becoming increasingly barrier-free.

Slopes and restrooms for handicapped people have been set up at a growing number of railway stations and other public spaces.

Still, one cannot help but wonder whether people are sufficiently aware of these efforts to improve facilities for handicapped people.

Concerns remain over people failing to keep in mind that they should pay close attention to handicapped people on streets to see if they face any potential danger and extend a helping hand to those in trouble -- which is no more than basic common sense.

毎日新聞 2014年09月22日 02時31分