Winter Paralympics - The lowdown about being disabled in China

The Winter Paralympics in Beijing are underway and we have the scoop on the lives of disabled people in China.

Winter Paralympics - The lowdown about being disabled in China

The Winter Paralympics in Beijing are underway and we have the scoop on the lives of disabled people in China.

A poem about sex and lust was published online in 2014. The poem was uploaded by a Chinese woman, who had previously published work but had never seen it so popular.

Yu Xiuhua was a farmer with cerebral palsy who wrote the title of Crossing Half of China to Stay With You It lit up the internet. The nation was stunned that a woman with cerebral palsy could talk about having sex.

Hangping Xu is an expert on disability culture today at the University of California Santa Barbara.

She has desire, she is playful, and she uses dirty language. She isn't in the state-sponsored narrative that people with disabilities are always kind, obedient, and inspiring.

Yu felt it was important to remind everyone that people with disabilities are complex, multi-dimensional human beings and not just one-dimensional.

Jia is able to do that. She is 26 years old and was raised in Guangzhou, South China before moving to Beijing. She is a victim of Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which is a condition that causes muscle wasting and requires a wheelchair.

People tend to believe that people with disabilities will always be happy and smile every day, but they also experience times when they feel angry and sad.

People made comments about Jia as a child. She says they were not discriminatory, but curious.

Jia said that although it was not common for disabled people to be seen on the streets at the time, Jia now believes they are more well-known. "In Beijing, everytime I take the underground, you will see people using wheelchairs."

2008 was a significant year for China's disability. China hosted the Summer Paralympics, and it ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This convention commits the country "fundamental freedoms", such as access to education, employment, and transport.

Stephen Hallett has lived in China for over 30 years and has a visually impaired son. He is an expert in China's disability issues and chair of the UK charity China Vision. He is also a visiting professor at Leeds University.

He believes that 2008's changes signaled a "slow trajectory to a more progressive and more humane society."

This was a significant change from the 2000s, when disabled people were kept in hiding at home or out in the country.

Access provisions that made it easier for people to get out of their homes were more visible, which in turn raised their status as regular citizens.

Then, unexpectedly, progress was halted.

Stephen claims that civil society, which was a platform for people calling for change after President Xi Jinping's 2013 election, was "largely shut down" by Stephen. He calls it an "atmosphere filled with fear" where people are unable to criticize or speak out against the government.

Yirenping was one of the most prominent organizations to be closed. It protected the rights of disadvantaged people through legal means.

It had established a network to support disability rights activists in education, employment and accessibility. Its offices were searched and its activists were jailed. All operations stopped after 2013.

Stephen says, "The problem is that you can't bring about real changes unless there are voices and some activism from the grassroots." China is currently in a stagnant state.

Progress is only possible with this activism.

Jia went to mainstream school, but it wasn't able to meet her needs. Jia had to use temporary toilets because there was no accessible toilet at the campus.

Jia's friends complained about the "embarrassing” situation. The school, having never considered it before, created an accessible solution.

She experienced the same at Renmin University, Beijing, where she studied world historical. She was able to draw on the successes of others.

She had a ramp in her room because of the previous disabled occupant. Jia's teachers also agreed to move classes from inaccessible buildings to make it accessible so that she could attend.

It is a sign of individual willingness, but there is no legal framework that would require it.

Hangping believes that it is because disability is still considered charity.

He says, "There's nothing wrong with the idea of thriving" and that the institution should make these facilities available and that the state should invest in it.

The China National Sample Survey on Disability in 2006 found that the number of disabled people was 83 million. This is 6.34% of the total population of 1.3 billion. Although the numbers have slightly increased to 85 million and 1.4bn respectively, they are still likely to be low as the World Health Organisation states that the global disabled population is 15%.

Another statistic revealed by the survey was that half of respondents were 60 years old or older. This group is expected to grow and have more needs.

Jia is interested in public policy and hopes to be a professor.

She says, "I was treated well but I would like more research on the environment for disabled persons because there are many large problems like finding work."

Globally, the rate of disability employment is low. China, despite its communist past, is no exception. It uses a quota system, just like many other countries, such as Japan. Employing 1.5% registered disabled persons is mandatory or the company will be fined. Many people choose to pay the fine.

The proceeds of the fines can then be used to help disabled people get into the workplace

Some businesses, however, abuse the system. Some businesses employ disabled people, but don't expect them to work. This means they don't have the ability to pay their access costs. While it provides an income for the individual, and government statistics show that, it does not bring about meaningful change or fulfillment.

Jia claims that the quota system discriminates against people who require care or reasonable adjustments. However, she asserts that the internet has transformed into a platform with many opportunities, which was strengthened by the pandemic.

A friend with a disability, who needed to take a break every few hours, started an English tutoring company that "helped him realize his dream." Others have taken up online writing.

Finding work is a challenge because it depends on your education and qualifications.

According to China's State Council, children have the right to education from kindergarten to high school. However, this is not always possible.

People with disabilities are more likely than others to be able to access mainstream education, while people with learning disabilities or sensory impairments often attend specialist schools that have their own curriculums.

Stephen states that this type of segregation could be problematic. It reduces future prospects and perpetuates low hopes.

Many students at blind schools are pushed into massage as a "default career option". This is a huge part of Chinese culture, and accessible work even if they don't have vision.

He says that people who are given jobs in hospitals can make serious money, but that there is an "underbelly", which can make women particularly vulnerable.

There's a whole sex business there. It's difficult to find the truth because everyone knows about it, but don't want anyone to discuss it.

He acknowledges that there are still problems. However, education has improved. More people with disabilities are now going to university. Family is the key to those who are unable or unable to find work.

One state-owned organization, the China Disabled Peoples Federation, aims to advocate for disabled people's rights and interests.

Zhang Haidi is the current chairperson. She became paraplegic at age five and now uses a wheelchair. She was unable to attend school so she learned four languages and taught herself university. She is a bit of a legend in China, and she also heads China's Paralympic Committee.

The Federation does not provide financial assistance for the severely disabled, but only those who are the most seriously disabled can receive it. Instead, the government focuses on poverty reduction by providing a minimum welfare subvention known as "Dibao". This provides financial assistance to those who are disabled and living in poverty.

Families who aren't eligible for Dibao must make difficult decisions.

Jia is available for 24-hour care. Jia receives 900 Yuan (PS106.57 per month) from the government, while her family pays the remaining 4,100 (PS485.70). She considers herself fortunate.

"If they don’t hire a helper to me, that means my mother will not go work but stay home and care for me."

She has heard of families where parents lost their jobs due to the high cost of caring.

One father, a successful businessman and entrepreneur, quit his job to take care of his daughter with SMA while his wife took care of their autistic son.

Jia states that it is one area she would like to see improve.

"There are some funds available for disabled families but it is not sufficient." The father might be able to return to his business and give back more to society if the family could afford to hire a worker.

This idea of contribution is still prominent.

Since 1949, the Communist Party of China has been ruling and Stephen states that the idea of an "ideal citizen" is still in force.

Although it's an ideal of the ableist, these notions are changing.

Jia was unable to afford a SMA drug, so the government funded it earlier this year. After one month, she was able to stand up again unaided.

While the cost is a financial burden for the government, she says that it is an emotional one. A spokesperson for the government stated that the expense was necessary because "every minor group is priceless."

Although there are some signs of progress, equality is still far away. This is something that the government recognizes.

Recent statements by the State Council criticized progress for being "unbalanced" and "inadequate", with a "big difference between the lives of people and the lives they desire".

It admitted that "we have a long road to go."

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