Being blind doesn’t slow Osamu Miyazono down much — the Internet was still untested water for most Japanese when he started logging on five years ago. Now he gets some 50 e-mails a day.
Of course, the point-and-click system doesn’t serve the 26-year-old acupuncturist very well, so he is helped by software that aids an audio version of Web sites. Using it, he’s come across what he calls “an epoch-making idea” — the Japan Blind Person Outdoor Association (JBOS).
On a September outing with the group to Kurashiki Tivoli Park in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Miyazono, who is from Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture, was joined by about 150 blind people and volunteers.
“There is the sound of a fountain,” Miyazono notes as they walked through the park. “Is there a pond?”
JBOS was created in 1996 to train guides to help those with sight disabilities make outdoor trips. Volunteer groups in 36 prefectures are among the members of the group, which sponsors a major tour once or twice a year.
There are guide-helper systems introduced by the state, but almost all of them are unavailable outside the areas where disabled people live, or for leisure purposes.
JBOS uses the Internet to communicate with its members and uses e-mail and bulletin boards to help those trying to find guide helpers.
Miyazono is among those that count on the JBOS site. “When I join a JBOS tour, I check information about the places we are going to visit beforehand,” he said.
The chairwoman of JBOS, Misako Kamamoto, 59, suffers from an eye disease that leaves her with only 10 percent of the vision of an ordinary person. So she also knows firsthand what audio-enabled Internet means to the organization.
“We use e-mail to discuss our management because e-mail is convenient and cheap. Our organization can’t exist without the Internet,” she said.
“People with eye problems are leading a hard life both in movement and information, but the Internet lessens these difficulties.”
The Internet, however, also comes with high connection fees, and a majority of people with vision problems are still not using it.
“We are really fortunate to have personal computers equipped with an audio response system,” Kamamoto said, but noted that support remains insufficient. “(The government) thinks personal computers are not needed for people with vision problems. I want the administration to create a system to support their popularization.”
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