With the Paralympics starting on Saturday, Beijing organizers are striving to make the host city handicap "friendly" by installing barrier-free facilities in buses, taxis, subway stations, shopping malls and hotels.
More than 600 Paralympic vehicles have been made handicap friendly, and 2,000 low-chassis barrier-free buses were purchased and are currently operational.
At least one exit of each subway station, 123 in all, is equipped with facilities to lift wheelchairs. Staff have also been trained to give assistance to disabled passengers.
In addition, 70 specially-designed taxis with bigger interiors, enough to hold a wheelchair, hit the road on Monday. The passenger seat of some of the vehicles can be turned 90 degrees, making it convenient for disabled people to get in and out.
Parking lots exclusively for the disabled have also been planned along the 39 trunk roads.
A total of 188 barrier-free rooms are being offered at 16 hotels serving the Paralympics. The hotels have gone through renovations to remove any barriers to the handicapped in guest rooms, elevators and bathrooms.
For instance, the space below a typical sink is kept empty to make room for wheelchairs; elevators are installed with buttons at a lower position for those in wheelchairs or with Braille signs for the blind.
Beijing tourist attractions, including the must-see Great Wall and Forbidden City, have also been made accessible to the disabled.
Over the past few years the municipal government has invested about 67 million yuan (US$10 million) in building barrier-free facilities at 60 tourist attractions. About 12,028 square meters of wheelchair ramps were built and 3,183 meters of handrails installed.
Badaling, the most famous part of the Great Wall around Beijing, has been equipped with two lifts and a wheelchair ramp to allows for one of the best views of the man-made wonder meandering along mountain ridges.
At the 600-year-old Palace Museum, or the Forbidden City, a 1,000-meter barrier-free pathway allows wheelchair visitors to go along the central axis of the palace.
The city's 235 large- and medium-sized shopping centers have also been made accessible with barrier-free facilities such as wheelchair ramps and Braille signs.
Silk Street, the popular clothing market, now has a 160-meter blind road leading to the entrance and 16 parking spaces for disabled shoppers.
Tang Xiaoquan, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games executive vice president, said the barrier-free facilities were not for the Paralympics alone. "We mean to get the city's nearly 1 million handicapped population more involved in public life."
Wang Jing, a Xuanwu District volunteer among the 44,000 serving the Paralympics, said the disabled needed to be understood as well as helped on top of the barrier-free facilities.
"I bring paper and a pen with me in case a hearing-impaired person would ask me for help."
(Xinhua News Agency September 3, 2008)
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