Snaps from Beijing, Sydney & a bit of Britannia (Part 2)

by Alvan Yap

For the first of this two-part series, click here.

Buying into the 中国梦 (China Dream)!
China is the world’s most populous country and the world’s second biggest economy. But it would probably not strike anyone as being a role model for disability rights because of its less-than-stellar record on human rights issues.

You’ll be surprised though.

As a first-time visitor to my ‘motherland’, I certainly was.

In fact, China can be more modern, high-tech, advanced and even cleaner than.. Singapore. Well, at least some parts of Beijing and Shanghai are. (But not the air, no. On the increasingly infrequent clear days, the winter skies are crisp pastels. On other days, oh no!)

Wheelchairs overhead!
You don’t often see wheelchair users on overhead bridges, unless these are linked to lifts – and there’re hardly any such here. In fact, I’ve never seen a wheelchair on an overhead bridge before.

Imagine my astonishment when I bumped into this wheelchair-accessible overhead bridge in Beijing. The following photos tell the story – it’s wide and gently sloped enough for wheelchair users to use. (I think. It does look a bit steep at the upper reaches.)

I ascended the bridge, marvelled at the width of it, and was thinking to hang around to see if a wheelchair user came along, so that I can say finally I spot a rare phenomenon – a wheelchair on a bridge. But the wind and chill and my numbed extremities – the high for the day was 3 or 4 degrees – made me change my mind in a hurry.

Very wwwwide opening and ggggentle slope for wheelchairs.

Very wwwwide opening and ggggentle slope for wheelchairs.

Wheelchair accessible overhead bridge 2

This bridge leads across a busy 4 or 6-lane road below.


Signs of the (modern) times

China boasts some hilariously horrible English-language signs and notices, the result of inept and overly literal translation. Trust me – I’ve seen plenty, enough to laugh at and last for a lifetime.

Beijing’s English signs for accessible facilities, though, are a different story. “Barrier free” and “Accessible” are the appropriate words used, as derived from the Chinese phrase 无障碍 – literally, “no obstacle”.

(Unlike, unfortunately, the antiquated and inappropriate “Handicapped” signs you still see at certain MRT stations in Singapore. Though these are referring to toilets instead of ramps and slopes, what’s wrong with the word “accessible”? Because there’s everything wrong with “handicapped”.)

I spotted this at the Temple of Heaven (eh, I think).

I spotted this at the Temple of Heaven (eh, I think).

IMGP0450

Wheelchair accessible sign for ramp at the National Library of China in Beijing.


Tactile everywhere (kinda)

According to Wikipedia, China boasts – and this time, I use this word in its positive sense – the world’s second largest volume (after Japan) of tactile paving on its streets and roads.

The first time I noticed the yellow strips of bumps and raised lines on the ground, I thought they looked familiar. Then it came to me – I have seen these before back home, at the MRT stations and on the ground at HDB void decks near my home.

But the extent of tactile paving in Beijing astounds me. Every major pavement has it, as well as lots of minor paths too. Not being blind, I can’t say for sure how well implemented the paving is over there, but it certainly caught my eye.

Photo of a man walking in middle of pavement. On his left is a strip of tactile paving.

From Wudaokuo subway station to Tsinghua University dorms, a distance of about 2 or 3km, there is tactile paving all the way along the pavement.


“Love is blind”

Bethel China is a VWO which runs foster care programmes for blind orphans.

I’m very happy to be able to help out at one of its outings during my Beijing stay. A friend of mine had arranged for a group of Bethel children to attend a New Year concert at his school – the famed Tsinghua University. Some of the children were also scheduled to perform a song with the Tsinghua choir.

Meeting the blind kids and their chaperones at the entrance of the university, we bussed them in, brought them to a function room for a briefing and rehearsal and then to a cafe for some food. All of them have white canes which they are adept in using – unfurling the canes with a swish of the wrist (the canes are the foldable types), and then tapping/rolling them around (some of the canes have small rollers at the end) as they navigate the path ahead.

Here’s a photo of their performance.

The ten children in the front row were guided up and down the stage by a minder each. (They had left their white canes on their seats.)

The children in the front row were guided up and down the stage by a minder each. (They had left their white canes on their seats.)


Over in the United Kingdom.. 

"Less able to stand" is a nice touch.

“Less able to stand” is a nice touch.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and the stories. You, too, can contribute to future posts by sending in the sights and signs you see of accessibility facilities overseas. Just email me!

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One comment

  1. I enjoyed both part 1 and 2. When I was in the UK recently (Oxford and Cardiff) I was lugging a very heavy suitcase (filled with my installation pieces) everywhere, and it was a mixed experience. Some of the older colleges in Oxford were not well equipped with wheelchair friendly surfaces and easily accessible lifts. I had to drag my case up and down three storeys! At the train station in Oxford, looking for a lift and ramp was a nightmare, and the older trains were not at all accessible to people with mobility issues, like myself. I had to carry the case up two very steep steps into the train, while trying not to fall through the gap between platform and train. Getting off at my stop, I was frantically searching for a way to open the door. Fortunately I saw a small sign (it was difficult to read without my reading glasses) with instructions to wind down the window, reach outside the door for the handle to open the door! I managed to tumble out before the train began to move off. It was harrowing! However, if I was a wheelchair user, there are people around to help and I am sure I would have had a much better experience then. People in the UK were very helpful and kind, and I am sure someone would have helped me if I asked, but being autistic, it didn’t occur to me to ask for help. 🙂 Here in my university in Australia, however, I find it a lot easier to move around using ramps and lifts that are readily available, easily visible and well signposted.

    Thanks for the posts. A great deal of food for thought!

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