According to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare of Japan (2006), there are 379,000 persons with visual impairments (both those who are blind and those with low vision) in Japan. Of these persons, 30% travel almost daily, 30% travel two to three days per week, 22% travel two to three days per month, and 11% travel several days a year; in addition, 44% need personal assistance when they travel in the community. Information collected by the Japanese government about the number of persons who are visually impaired and their daily travel has remained fairly stable over the past 30 years, although a number of factors have increased the choices and resources that are available to these travelers. The Japanese government conducts the Nationwide Person Trip Survey (NPTS) every three years to investigate the travel behavior of the general public, but it reports little information about travelers who are visually impaired. The statistics do not answer questions such as these: Which modes of travel are used by persons who are visually impaired? Do those who travel daily do so alone? Do those who travel alone always do so? and Does the frequency of travel differ according to the severity of the visual impairment?
A number of developments have increased the resources and choices that are available to travelers with visual impairments. The services of trained sighted guides and reduced bus and taxi fares for people with visual impairments have become more widely available in recent years. Audible pedestrian signals are common at intersections. Detectable warnings not only mark crosswalks, stairs, and train platforms, but are often linked by tactile guide strips to assist in way-finding.
These audible signals and tactile guide strips and detectable warnings have become ubiquitous in the travel environment in Japan. The survey reported here was undertaken to answer the questions just posed about daily travel by visually impaired persons living in the community.
The survey was conducted in March and April 2007. Requests for participation and questionnaires were sent to electronic mailing lists of members of groups of persons with visual impairments in Tokyo, Saitama Prefecture, and Niigata Prefecture. These members were invited to send the survey to other mailing lists of persons with visual impairments. Tokyo was chosen as a metropolitan area with a dense network of train, subway, and bus lines and a high availability of sighted guide services. Niigata was chosen as an area with much lower accessibility and availability of public transportation and a higher dependence on personal cars. Saitama falls between these two in terms of accessibility and availability of public transportation (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport of Japan, 2005).
Individuals were asked to complete one-week travel diaries documenting their daily trips and send them to me via postal mail or e-mail. Informed consent was also obtained. Data that were collected on daily trips included whether a trip was made alone or with an escort (a household member, guide, friend, or volunteer); modes of travel that were used; the destination of the trip; the purpose or purposes of the trip; and personal and household characteristics, such as age, gender, and information about visual impairment.
In this survey, a trip was defined as any one-way travel from one place to another by any means of travel (rail, bus, personal car, bicycle, or on foot). When a person traveled to more than one destination% with a separate purpose for travel to an additional destination, each was counted as a separate trip. A trip to a destination and the return trip home were counted as two trips.
Sixty-four persons with visual impairments (25 male and 39 female, aged 34 to 85, with a mean age of 58.7 [+ or -] 11 years) responded to the questionnaire. Of the 64, 14 lived in Tokyo, 23 lived in Saitama, and 27 lived in Niigata. …