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FOCUS: Network for disabled spreading across Japan.

TOKYO, Oct. 2 Kyodo

- (EDS: THIS IS THE THIRD OF FIVE NEWS FOCUS STORIES ON VIRTUAL CIRCLES IN A TIME OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY INNOVATION)

''This is an epoch-making idea for totally blind people like me. Nothing can replace it,'' says Osamu Miyazono, 26, an acupuncturist from the city of Nakatsu in Oita Prefecture, western Japan, of an Internet home page run by the Japan Blind Person Outdoor Support Association (JBOS).

Under blue skies in September, Miyazono, was at Kurashiki Tivoli Park in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, also in western Japan, as one of about 150 blind people and volunteers participating in a tour sponsored by the JBOS.

The JBOS was created in 1996 to introduce guides to help those with sight disabilities make outdoor trips, and volunteer groups in 36 prefectures are among its members. It sponsors a major tour once or twice a year.

''There is a sound of a fountain. Is there a pond?'' Miyazono asks, as he hears a sound and senses an atmosphere. ''It's really refreshing.''

Guide-helper systems introduced by the government exist, but almost all of them are not available outside the areas where disabled people reside, or for leisure purposes.

JBOS uses the Internet for communication among its members, and uses e-mail and bulletin boards to help those trying to find guide helpers.

Misako Kamamoto, 59, a tourism writer and chairman of JBOS, says, ''We are using e-mails to discuss our management because e-mails are convenient and cost nothing. Our organization can't exist without the Internet.''

Miyazono began to use the Internet about five years ago and is now a regular Internet user, receiving 50 e-mails a day.

Helpful to Miyazono are products such as a computer software package that produces an audio version of a home page. The number of such products is increasing year by year, with improvements in efficiency.

''I make frequent access to news pages and am enjoying real-time information. When I join a JBOS tour, I check information about the places we are going to visit beforehand,'' Miyazono says.

Kamamoto herself is suffering from an intractable eye disease, and her vision is one-10th that of an ordinary person. She may lose her sight in the future.

''People with eye problems are leading a hard life both in movements and information. But the Internet lessens these difficulties through JBOS and at the same time has the power to resolve the problem of information shortages.''

The Internet, however, has high communication fees and a majority of those with sight problems are not using it.

''We are really happy to have personal computers equipped with an audio response system. But the administration thinks that personal computers are not needed for people with eye problems. I want the administration to create a system to support their popularization,'' Kamamoto says.

JBOS's home page address is (http://www.imb.co.jp/accessibility/ayumi).
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Publication:Japan Weekly Monitor
Date:Oct 9, 2000
Words:477
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