Services for vision-impaired in Taiwan

My younger sister, who is profoundly vision-impaired (as am I) is considering moving to Taiwan for an indeterminate period. I’m not trying to be paternalistic or play the over-protective big brother, but I know from experience the difficultes of managing a daily life without vision in the United States, and I am worried that she is underestimating the challenges of transferring to a new language, culture, and environment. I thought I’d ask if anyone here has had any experience with any services available in Taiwan for vision-impaired people, or even if anyone here may have personal experience with a blind person living in Taiwan. Thanks in advance for any assistance (or reassurance) that you might be able to offer.

Does she plan on teaching? If so, she’ll be required to obtain a health certificate from a local hospital in order to get a work permit from the Ministry of Education. Without it, she won’t be able to work legally. The health certificate includes an eye test.

I am not one to encourage people to accept their personal limitations.

However, in this case I will make an exception. I do not think it a good idea for an individual nearly blind (or perhaps legally blind) to venture to Taipei from the United States. Without even considering all of the other daily difficulties that vision impairment likely deals (and notwithstanding the level of adaptation your sister may have achieved in the United States with respect to these problems), the traffic situation alone in Taiwan, both the physical and cultural aspects thereof, would cause me to strongly advise against her coming to Taiwan.

I would say that this is a profoundly dangerous environment for someone with a serious visual impairment to live in. Walking around urban areas and crossing streets is hazardous enough for people with perfect vision, given the reckless and inconsiderate driving habits of so many locals. Not to mention that pavements (sidewalks) are often completely obstructed so that pedestrians constantly have to step out among the traffic on busy roads, and that the environment is full of all kinds of hazards. It’s so, so different from the U.S. or Europe. I can hardly imagine how your sister would be able to manage. And people here generally don’t offer help to strangers or even make allowances for those with any kind of disability – it’s very much every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

If your sister has compelling reasons for wanting to come here, then these difficulties can be adjusted to. But she should at least be aware of them when making a decision on such a move.

She does want to teach, from my understanding, but unfortunately I do not know the precise details of her plans (she’s not at the moment too terribly keen on discussing the issue with me because of my initial reaction). She and I both have been legally blind since childhood because of an inherited condition. It was the language barrier that worried me initially… thank you for bringing up the issue of the awful vehicular traffic because, while I had heard stories of how much worse traffic could be in Taiwan and other nations, that particular problem had not come to mind.

I don’t want to tear her down either, but frankly I think she’s trying to do something beyond her capabilities. Are there any other problems that she might encounter which I may bring up to her, so at least she’ll be forewarned if she insists on going through with this? Thanks so much.

Can she speak Chinese? If not, then she’ll need to bear in mind that she’ll be essentially deaf and dumb, as well as blind, at least for her first few months here.
I totally admire your sister’s chutzpah and wish more power to her, but the concept of a “disabled-friendly” (for want of a better expression) environment is really in its infancy here. And of course there remains the problem of being legally unable to teach. Illegal teaching? Possibly, but even there, it would be a very risky proposition indeed.

I’m curious to know how on earth she managed to cook up this idea anyway (like I mentioned before, I’m somewhat out of the loop on the details), but I have to imagine that there’s some university program involved. She is taking courses in Chinese in college but I don’t believe she’s anywhere near proficient.

She’s very well adjusted to the disability (not to take credit, but having an older brother who knows the ropes doesn’t hurt) and she does all kinds of activities (rock-climbing, sky-diving, etc.) that sighted people are surprised she can manage. I too very much admire her willingness to undertake such a challenge (I remember being told that I was crazy to go to law school, crazy to get into litigation, crazy to get up in front of a jury and argue cases, etc.), but it’s important to one’s sanity and personal safety to be able to understand the difference between merely insanely difficult and impossible. Unfortunately my well-reasoned criticisms (or at least I thought they were) have been construed as borne of jealousy. It’s the whole risking her life business that bothers me.

And those are perhaps the types of activities that I would likely be inclined to encourage, or at least support. But doing Taiwan isn’t comparable to doing those activities.

I agree with all of that. There are tremendous risks involved in rock climbing and sky diving, I’m certain. However, I would think that the risks involved in those activities are of a type that can be mitigated to a great extent by the exercise of proper caution. The risks posed by Taiwan traffic (and the general disregard for safety that is so common here) are not necessarily the types of risks that can be lessened through cautious conduct.

I have noticed a FEW intersections with soundings for the blind, but they aren’t esspecially easy to hear. People push and shove and don’t have a care about anyone else. And that’s the foot traffic! Also, there’s no such thing as a clear path here. I have seen one or two people using a cane here, but not often. Also, people of any sort of disability are pretty well on their own or shut away. I don’t see people here who help out with things like that, the way a family would in the States. Mostly, I think people like your sister and yourself, are, shamefully, kept hidden at home. There might be a possibility, however, of your sister finding a job with a school for the blind or disabled. I’ve not heard of one of those, but they may exist. I would not suggest that your sister not come. I think she should do SERIOUS research first and then make an informed decision.

There’s an air of impulsivity to this whole affair that troubles me somewhat. She sometimes has an attitude of taking on the world and daring it to even try implying that she’s different from anyone else. Everyone has something that they just can’t do, whether it’s jumpshots or composing masterpieces or whistling or teaching in Taiwan…but this is a hard pill for her to swallow. Serious research is never a waste but I’m worried that her overconfidence will cause her to be careless about that (hence why I am here doing it for her, behind her back). Thanks for all of your insights (pun intended), not that they make me feel any better about the situation.

[quote]Taipei City Councilman Chiang Nai-hsin Monday lashed out at officials in charge of the city’s Bureau of Public Works for failing to install special “guiding tiles” for the blind on many of the city’s new sidewalks.

Chiang said that without the specially designed tiles, local residents suffering from blindness will be forced to deal with unexpected road hazards as they use the new sidewalks.

To prove that the newly constructed passageways are dangerous to those with varying degrees of visual impairments, Chiang Monday accompanied two local residents with zero eyesight to try walking without assistance from those who can see.

As the two tried to cross a small stretch of sidewalk on Hoping (Heping)East Road, they came close to tripping over covers of manholes and bumping into walls along the way.

Chiang demanded the city agency in charge of building the new passageways immediately put back the tiles for the blind or come up with other measures to give them a safe walking environment.

Meanwhile, in response to the city councilman’s charge, Tsai Tung-hsien, deputy director of the capital city’s Division of Construction Maintenance, said under the guidelines put in place in 1998 to create “an obstacle-free environment,” new sidewalks no longer need to have the special tiles installed.

Tsai said since the guiding tiles are not the only device that could be used to help the blind, the city has decided to abandon them. … 911s8.html[/quote]

Nothing much has changed since this report.

Wow, that’s discouraging.

Thanks so much for the article. Maybe I won’t be able to talk her out of the idea, but at least she won’t be able to say she wasn’t warned.

Bear in mind, too, that what special sidewalk tiles there are, are confined to major roads only. The back alleys and sidestreets (where your sister would very likely be living) often don’t even have sidewalks of any description – pedestrians have to walk directly on the road. It really is dangerous, far more so than any rock climbing I’ve ever done.

Add to that what I believe is a complete lack of foreseeability on the part of most Taiwanese drivers and those narrow alleyways and lanes are very hazardous for pedestrians.

Sandman, I think I’d have to agree with you from everyone’s description. And it’s not like getting around the most modern US city is the easiest thing to do with your eyes closed…which she realizes, of course. She’s no dummy, though, so I’m sure she must have some sense that Taiwan, like many other nations, does not necessarily cater in any way to her particular needs. But she doesn’t really believe that there’s anything she is simply incapable of managing. And I don’t want her to pay for that naivete with her life or health.

I thank all of you for your detailed descriptions of conditions in Taiwan. If anything will cause her to see reason, it’s this kind of detail.

And she might be right. But there would come a point – for everyone – where challenge can turn into distress, boredom and drudgery. It would be pretty horrible if that turned out to be something as banal as being unable to go to a certain place or being unable to earn a living.
You mentioned that she might be on some kind of university program. She might want to find what, if any, kind of support network she could expect from that quarter.

There’s a link to an article about the Institute for the Blind in Taiwan here
I know, I know, its probably the last thing your sister would be interested in. However, the article mentions that the institute is affiliated in some way with the Western University of Michigan, which might be able to provide some information that could help your sister make her plans.

As has been said, many streets (especially the smaller ones, like the lanes) do not have sidewalks. However, even those streets that do have sidewalks are not easily walkable, even by someone who does not have a visual impairment. Many sidewalks are blocked by any number of obstacles, from motorbikes, to street vendors, to telephone poles, etc… requiring you to weave back and forth and, often, walk in the street.

In addition, even if the sidewalk is not blocked (which seems to be a rarity), the pavement is often uneven, broken or beset with other problems. For instance, there is a sidewalk I use that has square spaces of dirt every so often for trees. First of all, these are not on the edge of the sidewalk near the curb, but in the middle. Second, there are no trees in the spaces and the dirt has settled so that it is about 6 inches below the level of the sidewalk.

As for those tiles that are supposed to help guide people with visual impairments. Not even main streets have them continuously. Often the tiles just stop where new pavement has been laid. In addition, I’ve seen many examples of where someone has, idiotically, placed (again) a tree or lamppost, etc… in the path of those tiles. So, if you were following them, you’d inevitably run into something.

All of your responses are extremely informative, thanks so much! A friend of mine who was helping me (because like public streets, many websites are not particularly accessible for the blind) to research these issues accidentally happened on this forum site, so I decided to post my inquiry in the hopes that someone out there would know something about this. Would it be OK for me to forward her this entire thread (I wasn’t sure if that violates any rules here) so that she knows that I am not the only one out there who has trepidation about her ability to pull this off?

By all means, forward this to your sister.

Is there any chance of her coming to visit first? Preferably with a sighted friend who can at least describe to her what various streets/situations are like?