Why Are Visually Impaired People Dying?: One of Japan’s Current Problems

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  • Japan is generally well-regarded because of the country’s infrastructure that puts pedestrians first. One of the most striking things when visiting cities like Tokyo, is the prevalence of tactile pavings.

    These tactile tiles can be found across Japan, and their predominance has made them become one of the things people associate Japan with. With that in mind, it would seem that Japan is truly doing everything to ensure that visually impaired people can live comfortably.

    by Martin Danker

    However, incidents involving visually impaired people tend to be very common, and they usually take place at train stations.

    Not all Japanese train stations have barriers between the platforms and the tracks, increasing the chances of incidents involving blind people. When this occurs, blind people fall on the tracks and are then struck by the incoming trains, killing them.

    The saddest thing is that, as stated above, these incidents are not uncommon. Recently, three different incidents involving visually impaired people falling on the tracks hit the news. In all cases, the victims of the accidents perished, sparking online conversations pleading for all stations to have protective barriers and doors in order to prevent these kinds of accidents.

    In fact, some Japanese stations do have doors, especially newer stations; and the government has been improving stations through the installation of such doors, but it’s a slow and costly process.

    However, the amount of incidents that are taking place should be enough to push the call for me to install platform doors more quickly.

    To make things worse, smart phones and error of social media have allowed people to record, photograph, document the aftermath of the accident without showing compassion and respect for the victims.

    An incident taking place in January saw JR staff members intervene when people started filming and taking photos of the body of a visually impaired individual who had fallen on the tracks and before being struck by an incoming train.

    As emergency services arrived to recover the body of the individual, onlookers grabbed their smartphones and started snapping photos of what was happening, going as far as to try to take a photo of the body under the train as if it were a mere object instead of a person.

    The event also raised questions as to whether shocking events were desensitizing people and if social media was enabling a sickening behavior that enabled masses to ignore their ethics and principles.

    While the number of incidents involving visually impaired individuals falling on train tracks is concerning, it pales when compared to the number of people who commit suicide by jumping in front of trains.

    Train stations have taken measures aimed at preventing people from committing suicide. One of the more subtle ones is the use of mood lighting at sections of train stations that are next to the edges of the platforms. Since these sections tend to be more isolated and have fewer people, they are usually where those contemplating taking their lives are before making the decision to jump.

    The blue lights located at some of the stations where suicides are more common are there to ease people and change their mood and how they are feeling at that moment if possible.

    However, installing doors would also prove efficient since jumping would require people to climb the barriers, giving onlookers and train staff the time to intervene.

    While the Namboku-Line’s platforms have doors that go from the floor to the ceiling, and thus reducing the chances of people falling onto the tracks or jumping in front of trains to zero, such improvements across all Japanese train stations would prove extremely expensive.

    Another thing to consider is how crowded stations are, and with the Olympics next year expected to saturate stations far beyond their capacity, installing doors to prevent people from falling should have been a priority.

    This is particularly important at train stations where middle sections of the platforms have columns obstructing the way, making people walk by the edge of the platform. The space there is limited, and the two lines of people that use them barely fit in there without having to rotate their bodies ever so slightly in order to avoid bumping into each other. Add people carrying luggage and people rushing to the equation, and you can see how dangerous these sections can be.

    Tripping or losing your balance would be enough to send you straight to the tracks; and yet, stations like Shinjuku Station, the busiest in the world, don’t have door and barriers in most of their platforms.

    With the number of deaths related to visually impaired individuals falling onto tracks and the Olympics taking place in 2021, the installation of platform doors has become one of the most pressing problems in the country.

    *Featured Image by visuallyimpairedpip (Philippa Barraclough) on Instagram
    : visuallyimpairedpip/