Wheeling Toward a Barrier-free Dream
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Zou Fang hopes to create a map of all the barrier-free facilities available for the disabled in every city across the country.
"With the map, traveling for people like me would be much easier," said the 35-year-old, who lost his ability to walk at the age of 22 due to an accident at work.
Since 2003, Zou, born and raised in Tianshui, Northwest China's Gansu Province, has developed a keen interest in traveling despite relying on a wheelchair.
He has managed to visit more than 90 cities across the country over the past seven years, wheeling more than 50,000 kilometers.
"I always loved traveling. But before (the accident), I kept postponing it, thinking I would find time to do it," Zou said, recalling the accident he had in 1997 while he was working as a technician in Changsha, capital of Hunan province, soon after his graduation from college.
One summer afternoon, Zou was buried under a pile of goods that suddenly collapsed from overhead, seriously injuring his back and waist. After various operations and treatments, Zou still has to rely on a wheelchair to get around for the rest of his life. His girlfriend left him one year later.
"At first I was depressed, but soon I accepted the reality," Zou said.
Apart from learning to take care of himself, Zou tried something more challenging.
In October 2003, Zou traveled to Beijing with a friend for a four-day conference. Two days later, Zou's friend left for work. Zou managed the other two days by himself and returned home alone.
"After that, I realized that it was not as difficult for me to go out on my own as I had imagined," Zou recalled excitedly.
He has since planned sightseeing trips for himself and visited almost every administrative area of China except Taiwan province.
There are always unexpected difficulties, Zou admitted, but "there are always solutions, too".
Zou said wherever he goes, he can always find someone extending him a helping hand.
"People often ask me if I'm afraid of running into some bad person. In fact, most people are very nice. Thanks to their help, I enjoyed my trip a lot." Zou said.
Since 2006, Zou has kept a blog on a website, catering mostly to people living with disabilities, where he updates his trips with journals and photos. The blog has received more than 100,000 visits.
"I want to share it with more people, hoping my experience can serve as encouragement for others to go out and see the world for themselves," Zou said.
Reading Zou's blog, many expressed their desire to follow his footsteps.
Since 2007, Zou has successfully organized five trips with each attracting more than 50 disabled participants from different areas of China.
To ensure the success of each trip, Zou, who works as a part-time marketing manager for a website, travels to the city ahead of time to get first-hand information.
"I'm disabled. I know what the availability of accessible facilities means for people like me," Zou said. "I think the accessible facilities in Beijing are the best among the cities I've been to. Most other cities still have a long way to go."
Not wanting anyone to lose interest in traveling only because of the inconvenience brought about by insufficient facilities, Zou creates a map marked with barrier-free facilities in the city - as detailed as what is in a restaurant or at a place of interest.
"You see, I don't have any huge dreams, but I'm a person of details and plans. That's the way I make it (each trip), " Zou said.
Zou hopes to share his maps with as many others as possible.
At a recent seminar on providing accessible facilities for the disabled, Zou brought up his idea of creating such a map for each city in the country, a sentiment echoed by many other attendants.
At the end of the seminar, Zou and some organizers devoted to serving the handicapped agreed to develop an electronic accessible map together.
"It is a huge project, but I'm not alone," Zou said.
(China Daily January 7, 2011)