A city in northeastern Japan is stepping up road snow removal efforts to help the visually impaired

MORIOKA — This municipal government in northeast Japan has taken steps this winter to step up snow removal efforts so that visually impaired people can walk the streets safely as the dangerous snowy road season has fully begun.

“When there is snow on the braille blocks, it becomes difficult to feel them with the soles of the feet,” said Hiroshi Takahashi, left, a teacher at the Iwate Morioka Prefecture School for the Blind in Morioka , December 22, 2021. (Mainichi/Ikuko Andō)

The general rule of Iwate Prefectural City in Morioka is to remove snow when more than 10 centimeters of snow has accumulated on the streets, but it has been tightened to 5 centimeters on a trial basis on the roads. of town around Morioka Prefectural School for the Blind.

When three visually impaired teachers gave a reporter from Mainichi Shimbun a tour of the school, the difficulty of walking in the snow became apparent.

“When the snow hides the Braille blocks, I can’t walk straight. I don’t know which direction I’m facing, and it’s like I’m lost,” says teacher Takahisa Sonobe, 44, described his journey this season. .

Sonobe walks around feeling the braille pave with the soles of his feet, and on his way to work he uses his white cane to hit fences and other targets he has set himself. When all those things he relies on are covered in snow, the condition of the road to school he used to walk changes drastically.

Another teacher, Hiroshi Takahashi, 52, said: “Some of the roads on my commute route don’t have Braille blocks, so I walk around holding my breath and gritting my teeth because I’m so nervous. ”

Takahashi said if you see a disabled person having problems, such as moving from side to side while holding a white cane, please call them. “Even if the road is icy, we can’t avoid it. We feel relieved when people talk to us,” he continued.

The municipal government of Morioka contracts the snow removal of roads and vehicular sidewalks to contractors, and when the snowfall exceeds the limit, they are dispatched. However, even if the snow accumulation is less than 10 centimeters, it is still dangerous for people with visual impairments, so locals and school staff shovel snow and spread snowmelt agents on the way. of the school from the dormitory where the students live.

A city official said, “If there’s not a lot of snow, the snowblower may not be able to remove it. This season we will see if it is possible to remove even 5 centimeters of snow and then we will consider whether to extend the practice to the whole city.

Another teacher, Ghimire Kshitij, 49, was grateful for the stricter measures, but said: “Some students commute from train stations and bus stops away from school. I hope the city government will expand the areas where the rules are stricter.

(Japanese original by Ikuko Ando, ​​Morioka Bureau)

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