Paralympics Opens New Vistas for Disabled
After Li Caimao took the college entrance examination 18 years ago, he found it very hard to gain entrance to elite universities, despite his academic qualifications, because many college majors did not admit the disabled.
So he took the exam three times before he finally became an undergraduate.
"For the disabled now, there is no barrier to college. They have the same conditions as everyone else," says Li, director of the disabled committee of the Beijing Municipal Government.
He attributes the improvements to laws and regulations safeguarding the rights of the disabled in culture, education and employment.
But he admits, "Discrimination is still there."
The change in public attitudes needs time, Li says. Many disabled people are stepping out of their homes to attend "simple but meaningful" social activities.
China has 83 million disabled people, accounting for 6.34 percent of the population.
"The lack of knowledge (about the disabled) leads to a lack of understanding by society," Li says, adding the Paralympic Games from Sept. 6 to 17 will be the best platform for understanding and help.
More than 200,000 disabled people in Beijing have taken part in Olympic and Paralympic-related activities, and 12,000 applied to become volunteers.
Sixty-three disabled volunteers are serving at the Olympic and Paralympic venues and 680 disabled performers are joining the performances of the opening and closing ceremonies and those in the Olympic Green.
Another 1,500 handicapped artists are performing at Olympic cultural squares in Beijing. Ten blind massage specialists offer traditional Chinese medical services at venues to alleviate athletes' fatigue.
The capital has almost 1 million handicapped people, or 6.49 percent of the population.
Li says the Paralympics bring opportunities as subways, airports and railway stations are all equipped with facilities for the disabled.
Zhao Chunluan, head of the Party committee of the Beijing Disabled People's Federation, told a press conference on Sunday that the federation would invite 20,000 disabled people and their families to the Paralympics venues to watch the Games and cheer for the athletes.
Of the 1.66 million tickets on sale, those with best seats at the most popular events were reserved for the disabled, Zhao said.
Hundreds of thousands of Paralympics volunteers, most of whom are able bodied, must undergo about 20 hours of training on caring for the disabled.
The disabled service center of Xicheng District is one of the 32training bases. Funded entirely by the district government, the center was built in 2006 at a cost of 30 million yuan (4.28 million U.S. dollars).
With a disabled identification card, the handicapped are entitled to the free use of the center's rehabilitation facilities, and can join activities, including handcrafts, dancing, cooking and sports. Similar centers in each district of the city also help the disabled to find jobs.
Li says each state-owned enterprise, government department or public institution in Beijing must allocate 1.7 percent of its posts to the disabled, higher than the national statutory requirement of 1.5 percent.
About 70,000 disabled people in Beijing have jobs, making up 33 percent of the city's working age disabled population. Almost 50,000 are employed through the "compulsory minimum" by units such as state-owned enterprises, and the other 20,000 work in welfare corporations, on community posts or are self-employed in small business.
He says more than 1,700 blind people work in dozens of blind massage centers, offering traditional Chinese massage treatment, which usually takes up to three years of college training.
One massage center manager says each staff member can earn 2,000 to 4,000 yuan (285 to 571 U.S. dollars) a month, depending on the number of clients.