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!)
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.
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”.)
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.
“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.
Over in the United Kingdom..
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!