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Braille Roads To Perdition

Are blind paths in Beijing all just for show?


Blind people can’t see us, but, worryingly, we don’t often see them: “The country has 17.31 million blind people. The city of Beijing’s statistics show that 67,000 live in the capital. But how many blind people do you see on the street?” Li Weihong, deputy chairman of the China Bind Person’s Association, recently asked.

Braille paths in Beijing have come under heavy criticism from the blind. Beijing Morning News interviewed several blind people, one of them saying, “We never use the Braille pavement,” while another claimed walking on Braille pavement can lead to death.

What’s wrong with Beijing’s pathways? The short answer: poor design. SCMP provides more detailed explanation:

“Photos have emerged in the past, of sections of Braille paving interrupted by open manholes, telegraph pole wires sticking out from the side of the pavement and some paving leading directly to trees, inviting public ridicule of the careless planning of the roads…

What can be particularly troubling for blind people is the connection between public facilities and the street.”

A blind masseur told the Beijing Morning News reporter that none of the banks, post offices, and pharmacies on his street are connected to the pathways. When he goes to the community clinic, he walks past it three times on the pathway. He only noticed when ushered in by a doctor on duty. The reporter also went to the Dongcheng District Library, where a special reading room for the blind was set up this July. Sure enough, the Braille path goes straight past it.

The paths in Beijing may not excel in quality, but they do excel in quantity. Beijing’s pathways extend for 1,600 kilometers, enough to pave a road from Beijing to Changsha. However, some of them are found in places where even fully-sighted pedestrians dare not venture, such as the Fifth Ring Road. Sometimes pathways suddenly end, only to magically reappear further down the road.

In the busy city center where people do actually walk, the reporter found that blind pathways were even more dangerous. Steel lines that connect electric poles to the earth, run right across the pathways, which are bound to trip-up the blind. Manhole covers are often located on the pathways, with Braille tiles encircling them, creating unfair and unwanted circuitous routes.

An incident in Shenyang serves as the perfect cautionary tale for the blind to not walk on the Braille tiles. A blind person walking along the path reached a car parked on it. Naturally, he tapped his cane on the car, trying to tell what was in front of him. What happened next was atrocious: The car owner stepped out and gave him a beating. Parking on Braille paths is not rare, with cars in China often parked on sidewalks, pedestrian areas or wherever is convenient. Tables and chairs  set out by restaurants are also a common site on the paths.

The article cites several other issues that make it impossible for the blind to go out in Beijing; audible signals at intersections go off at the same time, making it difficult for a blind person to tell where is safe to cross;  buses make their announcements just as they pull up at bus stops, resulting in loud, confusing blasts of noise; and guide dogs are almost never allowed to enter subway stations, supermarkets, and restaurants. It’s time for city planners to open their eyes and do something about it.


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The World of Chinese, Jan-Feb 2018: Fast Forward
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