Reporter Journal / Chen Weihua

Chinese cities need to be more user-friendly to disabled

(China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-12-04 11:13

Sunday, Dec 3, was the 26th International Day of Persons with Disabilities since its designation by the United Nations in 1992.

China has made much progress over the past decades in helping its people with disabilities through legislation protecting their rights in education, job opportunities, healthcare and daily life.

In his congratulatory letter last Thursday to the High-Level Intergovernmental Meeting on the Midpoint Review of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Persons with Disabilities (2013-22), President Xi Jinping called for special attention in taking care of people with disabilities, because they are "equal members of the global family".

According to an article by my colleague Liu Xuan from Beijing, Kaveh Zahedi, deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, praised China, saying that "in the past five years, a million people with disabilities in China have been absorbed into the labor market. That's because 3,000 employment centers are dedicated to people with disabilities and 30,000 people worked on connecting people with disabilities with job opportunities."

Through rapid and massive urban transformation, Chinese cities have become friendlier and more accessible for people with disabilities. People can probably find more tactile paving on sidewalks in major Chinese cities these days than in New York and Washington.

That is a laudable feat.

However, many problems still need to be fixed, and relevant laws need to be strictly enforced to protect the rights of the vulnerable.

For example, many "blind lanes" on sidewalks often lead to bicycles or obstacles that stand in the way. Some of the tactile ground surface indicators were clearly designed to look decorative rather than practical and user friendly to those who need them.

The definition for someone with a disability must be different in China and the US. There are nearly 83 million Chinese with disabilities, accounting for 6.3 percent of the population. In the US, the rate is 12 to 19 percent, according to various surveys.

With such a large population of people with disabilities, the group is often not as visible in Chinese cities as in US cities.

My sense is that not only should more laws be formulated and strictly enforced to protect their rights, the whole society needs to be educated to show more respect to this group.

The recent case in Beijing of a visually impaired woman being denied entry to the subway system simply because her guide dog was not wearing a muzzle was appalling. It has already triggered a heated debate on the rights of the physically challenged population.

Guide dogs for the visually impaired are still a new phenomenon and in short supply in China. They appeared only after millions of Chinese were deeply moved by the 2004 Japanese movie Quill - The Life of a Guide Dog.

Buses equipped with ramps and lifts are still hard to find. Bus drivers and fellow bus passengers are often not as friendly as they should be towards the handicapped.

I still recall my first trip to the US in 1993 when I spent a year in Honolulu, Hawaii. As I took the No 4 bus between the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus and my apartment in Waikiki, I witnessed numerous occasions of wheelchairs and mobility scooters getting on and off the bus.

The drivers were always very helpful. They lowered the bus and deployed the ramp or lift and then helped secure the wheelchair in the bus. Equally amazing were the passengers, who were always patient and friendly, unlike what's typical in many Chinese cities.

In fact, going back to China after that trip, I kept telling everyone that people in wheelchairs were treated like emperors in Honolulu.

In a recent case, I observed a woman in a wheelchair getting on a DC Circulator bus. As far as I could tell, the driver had done a good job deploying the ramp, but the woman complained it wasn't good enough. So the driver did it over again.

In Washington, I often marvel at the people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters moving freely in supermarkets and bookstores, living a life just like most people.

These are the kind of scenes I hope to see in Chinese cities.

Contact the writer at

Most Popular
Hot Topics
The Week in Photos