BEIJING, Sept. 18 -- For Beijing, the Olympics and
Paralympics have brought the clearest and bluest skies to the capital in the
last 10 years, reduced traffic congestion by half, promoted the concept of
queuing at bus stops and subway stations, improved infrastructure with new
sidewalks and resurfaced streets, promoted public politeness, increased green
spaces in the city and last but not least increased access for persons with
disabilities in public spaces around the city.
A spectator waves the national flag of China and the flag of International Paralympic Committee ahead of the closing ceremony of Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, Beijing, China, Sept. 17, 2008. The closing ceremony will kick off at 8 p.m. sharp on Wednesday. (Xinhua/Guo Dayue)
It does not get any better for disabled persons
living in Beijing than September 2008, at least near the Olympic park where the
subway has elevator access for wheelchairs, where wheelchair ramps have been
recently built for some local businesses, and where banners marking the
Paralympics give a sense that disabled people will be out and about.
Increased disability access is evident in the many public buses that are equipped with automated wheelchair ramps and sound systems that indicate the number of the bus for blind persons. Also, one might spot one of the 30 new wheelchair accessible taxis on the streets.
An athlete in wheelchair communicates with performers as she leaves the field after the closing ceremony of Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, Beijing, China, Sept. 17, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)
In general and in short, Beijing is among the more
physically accessible cities in Asia. But there are still problems. For example,
some taxi drivers are not willing to pick up wheelchair users. The introduction
of the 30 accessible taxis has actually added to the problem in a way, because
drivers of regular taxis use them as an excuse for not picking up wheelchair
users, saying that the potential passenger should take a special taxi instead.
Drivers of buses with wheelchair lifts claim to not
know how to operate the lifts, and the more honest drivers saying they do not
want to make the effort. In some public restrooms, the handicapped stalls end up
as broom closets or are simply locked. Around the city, signage will sometimes
indicate that a space is handicapped accessible, when in fact there is no
Physical access problems aside, one would expect that disabled persons would be going about their daily lives in Beijing just like everyone else. But where are they? It is rare to see a person with an evident physical disability on the streets of Beijing, yet government statistics say that 6 percent of the country's population is either mentally or physically disabled and that Beijing has close to 1 million disabled residents.
Performers celebrate with the mascot of Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games after the closing ceremony of Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest, Beijing, China, Sept. 17, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)
Although there are many three-wheeled scooters on the
streets with stickers indicating that the operator is disabled, few of these
persons seem to have any disability and likely operate the scooter based on a
disabled family member's special permit. The answer to why we do not see many
disabled people "going about daily life" is that despite strides in physical
access, societal barriers keep many disabled persons from finding work,
attending school, or even getting out of their home.
The China Disabled Persons Federation, which has
worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities,
notes that some companies deliberately break employment laws that require them
to hire a percentage of disabled persons. These companies would rather pay fines
than hire workers with disabilities.
And in the area of education, many schools simply
lack access or cite outdated school policies for not opening their doors to
disabled students. This is particularly discouraging as barriers snowball if one
has no education.
The federation says that Chinese society is "not
fully informed of the disabled people's suffering", and that the government
needs to increase publicity efforts so that society on the whole, and the
disabled, can better communicate with each other.
The government is now doing just that with its
unprecedented coverage of the Paralympics by the Chinese media. Also, tickets to
the Paralympics are selling well. This means that the 4,200 national and
international Paralympians have had large crowds to cheer them on. It is perhaps
the greatest promotional effort thus far to increase awareness of persons with
disabilities in the country. Chinese society can witness firsthand the abilities
of disabled persons in the sporting arena.
The next step will be for the abilities of disabled
persons on the Paralympic field to be translated into a realization of their
abilities to study, work, and go about daily life in a barrier-free society. The
Paralympics is not an event to give the disabled something to do. It is to
showcase that disabled persons, despite whatever perceived disability, are just
as able as the non-disabled to contribute to society. They should not be
considered a burden.
Dedication and hard work will be on display at the
Paralympics. And all those fortunate enough to have witnessed the athletes need
to know that such dedication translates to the workplace in terms of having a
more productive and loyal employee in a company. In the academic arena,
excluding the disabled means a country is not fully reaching its own potential:
educational opportunities should be provided to all citizens.
The clear blue skies these past few weeks have
spurred Beijing residents to call for keeping such measures as traffic reduction
permanent. Perhaps with increased awareness of the abilities of the disabled,
calls for positive change for these citizens will be made as well.
(Source: China Daily/By Eric