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Blind man’s death on Iran bridge a wake-up call for authorities

The death of a blind man in Iran has reignited a debate over whether the Islamic Republic is doing enough for the estimated 120,000 sightless Iranians. Our Observer says current measures aren’t enough.

According to Iranian media, Abbas Nobaghi died on January 30 when he fell from a pedestrian bridge in his home town of Varamin, a suburb of Tehran. He reportedly used the bridge every day. But when workers removed the horizontal section of the bridge for maintenance, they left the stairs unblocked. Nobaghi took his normal route up the stairs as usual — but when he reached the top he fell five metres to the ground, sustaining head injuries. He later died in hospital.

There was a similar incident in 2010 when a blind journalist fell on to the tracks in the Tehran metro, where she was run over by a train. The event was a wake-up call for the authorities, who started to put place better public facilities for visually impaired people. They started installing traffic cones and temporary barriers in some parts of the metro, later replacing them with tactile paving tiles. (Tactile paving tiles have surfaces that feature bumps or other textures that sightless people can feel with their canes. They serve as a warning sign on the edge of a metro platform or sidewalk.)

The Iranian Association for the Blind estimates there are 120,000 Iranians who are totally blind, and another 600,000-700,000 with serious visual impairment.

Ali Saberi is a member of Tehran’s city council, and is visually impaired. He told FRANCE 24’s Observers that the installation of tactile paving stones began ten years ago in the capital city, and around 30 per cent of of Tehran’s pavements are equipped with the tiles. “But the problem in Tehran is that all these initiatives are just random ideas by different municipalities of Tehran. [There are 22 municipalities in Tehran]. All of these municipalities choose their own consultant so nothing is homogeneous or even standard. And because of that we don’t have any clear idea how much money is spent on this overall.”

“The other problem is contractors,” he explained. “They win tenders to install these facilities in Tehran, but because of lack of checks on their work, they do what they want, and of course they do it as cheap as possible. More than that, there is no training about the special needs of sightless people, so the workers who install the tiles have no idea what are they doing.”

Despite this, Saberi did stress that there had been improvements in recent years in the city. “Installing Braille signs in the buses, sound signals, tactile tiles in the metro, special taxis for sightless people — these are some of the projects that have been done or are being improved. We have a global plan for a ‘smart city’.”

“We have to depend on other people’s kindness to get anywhere”

Our Observer Rojin is a 27-year-old student who lives in Tehran. Blind since she was a teenager, she is an activist for the visually impaired, urging the authorities to install protective measures in public areas that will improve access for sightless people. She asked to remain anonymous.

“Blind people in Iran have to prepare themselves as if they’re going to discover another world, just for a simple walk outside. The problems begin the first step we take out of the house. The most dangerous obstacles are uncovered drainage ditches. They’re everywhere in Iran – often between streets and pavements, meaning that if we want to cross the street we have to find a footbridge. We have to depend on the kindness of strangers to tell us where to go. And if that doesn’t work, we often find ourselves standing there, with no idea whether we’re on the sidewalk or in the middle of a street. It’s happened many times to me.”

Initially published on France24 on 03/02/2017
Read the full story here.

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