Women of China
20th August 2018
Campaign Aims to Give Disabled People Dignity, Independence
Editor: Wang Yue
Ruan Guanqing called out instructions to her husband, who is blind and has a prosthetic leg, as he pushed her wheelchair out of their modest house via a gentle ramp so she could enjoy some fresh air.
The elderly, disabled couple said the installation of the ramp, which replaced a low staircase consisting of several steps, has improved their lives immeasurably.
Just a few months ago they were virtually prisoners in their own home because they could not negotiate the steps — Ruan’s husband, 67-year-old Yang Chuansheng, was forced to bend down to feel his way, but that was impossible for Ruan, who is paralyzed from the waist down.
“I would tell my daughter that I didn’t want to go out, just to save her the trouble of helping us,” said the 63-year-old from Baiguoshu village in Xinyang, Henan province, who receives State benefits.
Ruan and Yang are among millions of people who have benefited from a campaign to promote accessibility in buildings, especially homes, in isolated villages and towns.
The campaign was launched in 2013 by the China Disabled Persons’ Federation with the aim of eradicating domestic barriers and allowing disabled people to live dignified, relatively independent lives. So far, the central government has provided more than 1 billion yuan ($145 million) in funding.
The alterations－such as low-level cooking ranges, ramps, handrails, sit-down toilets and manual clothes horses－have cost little, but the impact has been enormous.
In 1984, when Yang was 33, he lost his sight and his left leg in an explosion while helping to build a bridge near Baiguoshu.
His injuries meant that Ruan had to become the family breadwinner, in addition to caring for her husband and two children. However, in 2004, she sustained a severe lumbar fracture when she fell out of a tree while picking chestnuts to sell. She has used a wheelchair ever since.
Their son works in Guangdong province, so until recently the couple relied on their married daughter, who lives in a neighboring village, to cook and clean for them, and even help them use the toilet.
“I tried to cook, but the stove was too high because I use a wheelchair,” Ruan said, displaying a number of scars she sustained after being scalded when she attempted to cook.
Now, the lower-level stove and worktops make it easier for her to prepare food, meaning she and Yang are less dependent on their daughter. Every morning, Ruan guides Yang as he wheels her to the stove to cook breakfast, and she makes sure he knows where he is going when they use the ramp to move outside and enjoy cooler temperatures.
In addition, the handrails help them to use the sit-down toilet, which is both cleaner and safer than a traditional squat lavatory. The new-found independence has bolstered the couple’s self-respect. Yang’s disabilities meant it was almost impossible for him to use a traditional toilet without assistance, so he resorted to using an enamel pot in the bedroom, which was both insanitary and potentially dangerous.
One time he knocked the pot over and got covered in excrement. “At that moment, I wished I had been killed in the explosion,” he said, recalling the humiliating experience.
The 3,500 yuan fee for the renovations to the couple’s home was paid by the local branch of the disabled persons’ federation.
In addition to the ramp and other infrastructure changes, the couple received special kitchen appliances, such as a kettle designed so hot liquids cannot scald the user and a cooker fitted with a voice chip that explains the function of every button on the console and allows blind people to cook safely.
During a news conference on July 25, Zhou Jian, deputy director of the rights department at the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, said the renovation program has been financed by funds provided by the national lottery, and more than 2.1 million families have benefited in the past five years.
Despite that, demand still outstrips supply, according to Zhou. “An estimated 3.3 million poverty-stricken families are still in need, and we will strive for more financial support to expand the program’s coverage,” he said.
China began improving access for the disabled in 1989, when the federation teamed up with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the then Ministry of National Construction to roll out construction standards for urban roads and buildings.
The standards, which set parameters such as gradients for urban roads and the width of doors in public buildings, marked the beginning of compulsory disabled access in public spaces. Designs that failed the requirements were rejected.
The cause was further boosted in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. It was the first time the Games had been held in China, meaning the country and its infrastructure came under intense global scrutiny.
In response, Beijing and other large cities invested heavily to improve disabled access to public transportation and other facilities, such as sports centers. Official figures show that 14,000 accessibility-related projects were carried out in Beijing between 2001 and 2008, surpassing the number undertaken nationwide in the previous two decades.
The Olympic year also saw revisions to the laws related to discrimination against the disabled, and the addition of more-detailed rules outlining the role of accessibility in construction plans.
In 2012, the country rolled out its first specific regulation on ensuring access in all spheres, and a short while later a number of cities passed legislation allowing guide dogs to ride subway trains with their owners.
However, despite 30 years of efforts, a lack of access to major buildings or poorly conceived arrangements at such facilities mean that few of China’s 85 million registered disabled people are able to visit many well-known public places.
Elevators are still a luxury at some subway stations, while tactile paving－raised areas on sidewalks to guide blind people－sometimes terminate at walls or are blocked by inappropriately situated lampposts, and some wheelchair ramps are too steep to be used safely. Moreover, many toilet stalls reserved for disabled people lack handrails.
According to a 2012 survey conducted by the federation, only one-third of supposedly accessible facilities in Beijing accorded with international standards, and almost 70 percent of disabled people nationwide voiced discontent with the level of access to public spaces.
Moreover, irresponsible parking and the growth in shared bicycles left at random on sidewalks and outside buildings are reducing access to many places, according to Nie Zhongyuan, a media professional who has directed three TV adverts designed to raise awareness of the correct use of such amenities.
The 29-year-old said the situation is at its worst in community-based facilities, and it is essential that disabled people are provided with suitable access to roads, transportation and shopping malls. Inadequate access to residential properties means few disabled people leave their homes, so they enter a vicious circle.
“When we don’t see something often enough we tend to ignore it. Thus, the disabled are becoming ‘invisible’, making every encounter with them shocking, even scary, for some people,” said Nie, creative director at Huagan Creative Communication Co in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.
“So they are cursed, disliked, bullied and pitied, which forces them to accept the false perception that they are not members of society－that they are not needed, that they are not loved.”
Access to communal facilities is poorest in the countryside, even though 70 percent of disabled people live in the vast rural areas. Awareness of the need for suitable access and investment related to the issue are far lower than in urban areas, but experts said introducing accessible facilities to rural areas will require more than simply raising living standards and boosting people’s self-respect.
Renovations and home improvements help to free rural caregivers from constantly attending to family members left immobile by low levels of access, which is important at a time when the country is working to eradicate extreme poverty and revitalize the rural areas, according to Sun Yiping, deputy director of the Institute of Accessibility Development affiliated to Tsinghua University in Beijing.
“An estimated 40 percent of the impoverished population is disabled to varying degrees,” he said, adding that the removal of barriers would help disabled people to get out of their homes and make a living.
“People in rural areas need practical, rather than beautiful utensils. That’s advantageous for those on poor incomes because it helps to keep prices low.”
But he also noted the looming difficulties for renovation work in isolated areas.
“Many people－villagers and local officials－do not regard the provision of access as important, which could hurt enthusiasm for the task in the first place,” he said.
“Circumstances in rural areas are often more complex than in cities, especially in mountainous or arable regions, and wise heads are needed among local officials to make the most of the capital.”Nie, the media professional, stressed the importance of promoting awareness in both rural and urban areas, and said authorities should not only ensure access to public buildings and other amenities and facilities, but also educate more people about their correct use.
“Laws and regulations should be formulated to ensure such facilities are not misused or vandalized,” he said. “Also, we must improve media coverage to educate people about equal rights and create a caring social atmosphere.”
(Source: China Daily)