Opening a City to the Disabled

By Li Tiansheng
Published: 2008-09-05

From Lifestyle, page 51, issue no. 383, Sept 1, 2008
Translated by Ren Yujie
Original article
: [Chinese]

An American journalist who has lived in Beijing for six years wondered why he only spotted disabled persons at certain designated places in Beijing - for instance, at schools for the disabled. It seemed as if they were living in a world of their own, isolated from the rest of society.

Two years ago, the Beijing Television Network produced a program in which a local journalist disguised themself as a disabled person and set out to explore the city alone in a wheelchair.

He encountered huge obstacles to using public transportation, though found it comforting how helpful the public was, esepcially bus conductors who warmly offered to lift his wheelchair into the vehicle.

Beijing would have remained far from a diasabled-friendly and accessible city if not for the Paralympics - the Olympic Games for the disabled - which opened on Sept 6.

Despite the incredible attention the issue has garnered and the long-sought new facilities, there were still questions as to what would happen after the games.

Preparations for the Paralympics
In the run-up to the Paralympics, Beijing Organizing Committee of Olympic Games (BOCOG) executive vice-president Tang Xiaoquan announced on Aug 24 that Beijing had installed 16 special bus lines and put online 400 disabled-friendly buses for the Paralympics.

Besides these measures, all the 123 subway stations were ready with special passage for the disabled, who could use the newly added 42 special stairs-climbing machines and 109 lifts to reach the boarding platfroms underground from the entrance above. The city also introduced the first batch of disabled-friendly taxis.

In addition, major tourism sites had been renovated and upgraded with facilities for the disabled, these places included the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

On August 22, a dozen Chinese and foreign journalists poured into the "Cozy Home", a three-floor building specially designed for the disabled, located in the Xicheng district of Beijing.

It appeared ordinary on the outside, but inside, the flooring was anti-slip, water taps were installed with sensors, handrails ran through the interior, and toilets were disabled-friendly. A button was installed outside each unit, when pressed, there would be an audio guide to the facilities installed in the house.

The 30-million-yuan Cozy Home was built in 2006 and functioned as a service center for the disabled, now also a banner project for the city.

"There are 300 rehabilitation centers for the disabled in 18 districts of Beijing, which ensures 85% of the disabled in the city have access to the service," said Li Caimao, director of the Beijing Municipal Commission for the Disabled Office. He revealed that Beijing intended to increased the number of centers to fully cover all the city's disabled.

The disabled Li recalled that when he was 18-year-old and took the high school final examinations that would determine university entry, he had little choice for further studies. Things were different now, he said, as most universities would not discriminate against the disabled.

"The percentage of disabled children enjoying free compulsory education in Beijing has reached 99.5%. Of the city's 200,000 disabled persons who have reached working age, 70,000 got jobs," he said.

Beijing and Elsewhere
Education and employment had always been the biggest problems facing Chinese disabled persons. Beijing might have managed that relatively better, but how could China solve the problems nationwide?

The director-general of China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF) Shen Zhifei lamented that China had seen uneven progress in caring for the disabled. He said that in the poorer western region, especially the countryside there, many disabled could hardly maintain basic living conditions.

Shen believed the gap of living standards between the disabled and the average population was in fact widening, not narrowing as some suggested.

Open data showed that there were 999,000 disabled persons in Beijing, accounting for 6% of the city's population. Nationwide, the number was 83 million. Many credited CDPF chairman Deng Pufang for the progress made in upgrading the lives and fighting for the rights of the Chinese disabled; he had also won international recognition.

Deng was the first Chinese to receive the UN Human Rights Award. His credentials drew much attention to his cause and helped him turn the once-neglected development for the disabled to a higher level.

The 64-year-old Deng had on numerous occasions said that before his retirement, he must ensure the development could move on without him.

"I have been making field visits, researching and inspecting local conditions, though some looked good, but I knew some of them have put up a show for me," said Deng.

The Beijing Paralympic Games had offered a chance for China to draw national resources toward one social group. For the disabled, it was good news and a new beginning, but more importantly, it should be sustainable.