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Visually impaired people in Japan are struggling to book COVID-19 vaccinations, as they are often unable to recognize promptly the arrival of a vaccination voucher.

One expert has called on local governments to work out a notification method tailored to the needs of people with disabilities.

According to a health ministry survey for fiscal 2019, there were some 330,000 certified visually challenged people across the country.

In March, the ministry called on local governments to consider using Braille in mail notifying visually impaired people about the COVID-19 vaccination program. The decision on whether to adopt such an approach was left to local governments.

Masamitsu Kikuchi, 66, who is completely blind and lives alone in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, did not notice a COVID-19 vaccine voucher sent in late April for two weeks, until a caregiver found it.

According to Kikuchi, the envelope for the voucher included the sender in Braille but did not indicate that a vaccine voucher was inside.

He was unable to make a reservation for a vaccination by himself as the document inside the envelope and the 10-digit voucher code were not in Braille.

"I wish I could have received a phone call," he said.

The Aizuwakamatsu Municipal Government now plans to change the notification method it uses, and hand over vaccine vouchers in person to visually impaired people below age 65 from July.

Yoshihiko Sasagawa, 87-year-old chairman of a Tokyo welfare association for visually impaired people, asked an association staff member for help reading the COVID-19 vaccination notification he received.

Some blind people cannot read Braille and need audio guidance, Sasagawa noted, calling on authorities to "send people to help or take other steps."

Some people with disabilities are overwhelmed by having to make vaccination reservations on a first-come-first-served basis, on par with healthy people.

One municipality set aside a reservation quota for people with disabilities to receive COVID-19 vaccines after receiving an inquiry from a completely blind older resident.

Keio University professor Yasushi Nakano, an expert on the psychology of people with disabilities, said that authorities "could have predicted such a situation and needed to take measures beforehand, instead of acting after a request."

"Local governments should consider how best to notify people with disabilities in a way that meets individual needs, including by conducting regular surveys," he added.

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