¡Highly Commended
gThoughts While Walkingh
Mr. Akio Miya (60), Tachikawa City, Tokyo

That day, on the way to meet my friend, I was on a train bound for K station, a place I had never been to before. Normally, when a train arrives at a station and the door opens, I hurry to get onto the platform so I can concentrate on the sounds around me for a while and figure out where the exit stairs are. That day I managed to guess my direction based on the flow of people and the movement on the streets outside the station, and finally started to walk. However, after only a few steps, I heard a loud mechanical noise, probably coming from a construction site in the station. At the same time, a passing train came roaring into the platform on my left. I stood still, my whole body rigid with fear, as if I were crossing an old wooden bridge over a deep valley in the midst of strong winds. The overlapping deafening noises completely blocked out the sounds that could help guide me forward.

After standing there for a while, I decided to start walking again. I hit the concrete floor hard with my white cane and gave it the full weight of my body. I was expecting somebody to notice my struggling and offer me help.

This dangerous and immodest expectation was answered after about ten seconds. Someone asked me where I was going in a loud voice. Replying in a similarly loud voice I said, gIs this the right way to the exit?h

gYes, but be careful, you have to move a bit to the right.h I did not follow his directions immediately, but tried to make sure, pointing to the left and asking, gThis way?h
gYes, yes, that way.h He answered without noticing the mistake he had made.
gThank you.h I was in a hurry, so without considering his directions further I headed toward the exit. Needless to say, right and left are opposite directions for two people facing each other, but many people do not consider that on the spot. This could be a fatal mistake for the visually challenged.

It has long been said that the blind are skeptical. When you think about it, this is a matter of course really. There are some aspects of life where visually challenged people cannot live without being skeptical. However, we have to trust others in immediate situations. So we give in after all. Recalling a popular phrase from long ago, it can be said, gThe blind cannot live without being skeptical. But if you cannot trust others, you shouldnft be allowed to live.h

This is nothing to be proud of, but I have fallen off the train platform four times in my life. It has been almost forty-five years since I started to walk by myself using a white cane, so I have had one accident about every ten years. Considering that I go out almost every day, is once every ten years a lot or a little? Fortunately, I have never been in the situation where a train approached right after I fell, and I have always been rescued by the skin of my teeth. However, when I fell off the subway platform onto the tracks, I honestly thought to myself, gThis is the end.h At that time, people were saying, gSubways have live electric lines on the rail. So if you fall, youfll touch the rail and die.h I do not know if that was misinformation, or if I am still alive today simply because I did not touch the two rails at the same time.

Presently, visually challenged people have started to take advantage of the gguide helperh (caregiver) system when they go out. Though the system still has its problems, the number of people using it is increasing every year. Such a situation should certainly be welcomed as a sign of improvement in social welfare. As is commonly said, independence for the disabled does not mean that they can do everything by themselves. A more profound type of independence exists when they actively participate in work and society while receiving effective support.

Having said that, I still find myself attached to the unique feeling of facing the world with only a white cane in my hand. In a sense, my identity as a visually challenged person is connected to this challenge. We are thrown into the world defenseless, begin by analyzing and evaluating all the information gathered desperately by our remaining senses, and advance literally step by step\anxious and tense always. It is a mundane life as well as an everyday adventure particular to those who cannot see. It may be hard to understand, but the process offers me freedom, albeit of a fragile and dangerous kind.

I am already over sixty. My hearing and physical ability become weaker day by day, and from now on I will have to ask for more support from my wife and gguide helpers.h This might actually be a good thing for someone like me, a heartless person who has never shown sufficient gratitude. However, I will walk by myself for just a little while longer. For the visually challenged, or at least for me, walking alone signifies an important path on which to ponder freedom and safety, skepticism and trust, self-sufficiency and dependence.

So again today, I walk, white cane in hand, literally searching for the gright way.h

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