September 10, 2008
Who would have imagined a quarter of a century ago, 4 000 physically disabled athletes participating in a spectacular opening ceremony before 91 000 spectators in the Birds Nest? Given the history of Chinese attitudes towards disability, the Paralympics are in some ways a more striking event than the Summer Games. And their influence is considerable.
Beijing has bought 2 000 ‘kneeling buses’, is being fitted with wheelchair ramps and street crossing signals for the blind. The airport is now very wheelchair-accessible.
China has over 80 million disabled people and until comparatively recently, these aids were not generally found to be necessary because the disabled they were not expected to be mobile.
The disabled have suffered, especially in rural areas, because of the belief that they were being punished for their previous life.
The change in government attitude probably began in the era of Deng Xiaoping era, whose son, Deng Pufang, was paralyzed in 1968 after the Red Guards threw him out of a third floor window during the Cultural Revolution. Deng Pufang founded and heads the Chinese Federation for the Disabled. There is a law that 1.5% of government jobs be given to the disabled. The PRC has now ratified the EU Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which guarantees them equal treatment.
As in most western countries, the recognition process has been slow and many millions of Chinese disabled live in poverty. The implementation of laws is difficult and employment hard for them to obtain.
Most importantly, the Paralympics help the public accept the disabled. Significantly, Chinese newspapers have been publishing flattering photographs of the disabled, both athletes and amputees due to the Sichuan province earthquakeAuthor : Stanley Crossick