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COVID-19 vaccines out of reach for Japan’s visually disabled due to inaccessibility of information

Close-up of blind person woman hands reading Braille

People with vision disabilities in Japan are struggling to book COVID-19 vaccinations because they cannot distinguish the voucher in their mail.

According to a health ministry survey for the fiscal year of 2019, there were about 330,000 people with vision disabilities across the country.

Masamitsu Kikuchi, 66, who is completely blind and lives alone in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, did not realize he had a COVID-19 vaccine voucher in his mail until a caregiver found it.

Kikuchi said his address on the envelope was written in Braille but nowhere in Braille did it 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 also not in Braille.

“I wish I could have received a phone call,” Kukuchi said.

The Aizuwakamatsu Municipal Government now plans to deliver the vaccine vouchers in person, beginning in July, to people with vision disabilities below age 65.

Yoshihiko Sasagawa, 87-year-old chairman of a Tokyo welfare association for people with vision disabilities, had to ask a fellow association 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 feeling overwhelmed by having to make vaccination reservations on a first-come-first-served basis, on par with healthy people.

After receiving a request from a blind senior, one municipality in Japan has allotted a specific reservation quota for people with disabilities to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

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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