The 13th Paralympic Games, which gathers the world's best disabled athletes in a celebration of sport and destiny-defying courage, will bring more positive changes to the lives of China's disabled population.
"The utmost significance of the Paralympics is that it will help the whole society to be aware of and care for the disabled," said Chen Yuping, an Athens Paralympic sitting volleyball champion, on Friday, one day before the opening of the 13th Paralympic Games.
"Through the sports gathering, more will come to understand and know about people like me and share our passion for sport and life," she said.
The 11-day competitions will see more than 4,000 athletes from 148 countries and regions. Organizers aim to host the Games in a way that it will be remembered as an equal splendor as the Beijing Olympic Games. The host China also fielded its largest delegation ever with 547 members including 332 athletes.
"The Games will be a stage for the disabled athletes to challenge their own limits. It will also be a catalyst for improvement in the cause of the disabled people in China and the world," said Wang Wei, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the 29th Olympic Games (BOCOG), at a news conference.
China has about 83 million disabled people, and notably, the May 12 earthquake has just added thousands of more amputees.
In days leading to the Paralympic Games, huge attention has been given to the population. Chinese televisions devoted its prime-time to stories of Paralympians and promotion films featuring people with impairment. The China Central Television plans an unprecedented amount of live coverage of the Games events.
Besides the public attention, the disabled are getting some tangible benefits.
In preparing for the Paralympics, Beijing invested 600 million yuan (about US$88 million) to install and improve accessibility facilities. Its residents are seeing more public buses with lowered doors, toilets with assistive devices and warning systems on the streets. Rules prohibiting large dogs are relaxed to allow the blind to bring their guide dogs.
Parks, tourist sites, including some heritage sites like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, and museums have modified their facilities to be accessible for the disabled. All Chinese airports have adopted accessible designs. Banks and post offices in some cities also provide service in sign language.
Public awareness campaigns are organized. In Beijing, more than 5,000 residents with disabilities are recruited as community supervisors to check whether accessibility facilities function well. In Qingdao, a co-host city of the Olympics and Paralympics, more than 20,000 locals registered to learn some sign languages to communicate with the hearing-impaired.
Nationwide, more than 162 middle schools are paired up with Paralympic committees in 159 countries and regions in educational programs. The Paralympic torch relay ran through 11 cities across China to spread the Games' message of "Transcendence, Integration and Equality".
"The Paralympics got some balls rolling," said Jia Yong, sports director of the China Disabled Persons' Federation, "changes have been made, and more are on the way."
Jia still remembers that 20 years ago when he trained with his swimmers in Beijing, one man came to them and asked if they were from homeless shelters. "The public mindset is changing. People have become more accepting and caring as the society develops," he said.
"Sports transform the lives of individuals. It also spurs social changes," Jia said. "The Paralympic Games will benefit more disabled population in ways like promoting social awareness, integration, and the adoption of favorable policies," he said. Some 50 technicians who are trained to repair the artificial limbs for the Paralympians are also important "personnel legacies", he added.
Looking to the post-Paralympics prospects, many noted that more work is needed to remove the impediments for those with special needs.
"Beijing, for example, is not yet a totally barrier-free city. It takes more social progress to see more changes, both in infrastructure and in people's minds," said Tang Xiaoquan, deputy executive president of the BOCOG.
Sang Lan, a Chinese gymnast who was paralyzed a decade ago in a Goodwill Games in the United States, wrote in her blog that she wants to see more disabled people out and active in the society, and also more understanding and care of the general public.
"I got over the past ten years with the help of those who cared about me...In the next ten years, I will continue to fight against the odds and say no to those discriminate opinions," she wrote.
(Xinhua News Agency September 6, 2008)
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