Sunday, September 2, 2007

China and the 2008 Olympics: Visibility for the Disabled

Continuing our series on China’s ambiguous social justice record leading up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing: The Christian Science Monitor presents a thought-provoking article on how the Paralympics—which will begin less than two weeks after the close of the Summer Olympics—may help improve living conditions for China’s disabled population. While the Chinese government is promising improvements in Beijing’s infrastructure to increase accessibility, Simon Montlake finds that cultural attitudes are an equally important part of the equation:

“Perhaps even harder, say advocates for the disabled, is shifting attitudes and curbing discrimination toward an estimated 83 million Chinese living with various disabilities…

“ ‘Disabled people don't want to go outside, because they think ordinary people will be shocked. But if we go out, then people will get used to us,’ says Wen Jun, a paraplegic who runs an online disabilities network. ‘By going out, we say to the government that we're here and we need more facilities.’ ”

This leaves us with some important questions. For example, how much of an improvement will the construction projects actually create in terms of access? Moreover, is it possible to imagine any sort of corresponding improvement in attitudes towards the disabled and elderly as the Paralympics draw closer? Or are cultural attitudes too ingrained at this point to hope for a significant shift? Although we lack concrete answers at this point, we can acknowledge the proactive stance that Chinese authorities have taken on this issue as an encouraging one, while continuing to note concerns about issues such as limits on basic political and civil rights (as Montlake notes in an earlier story).

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