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20,000 Beijingers Will Benefit from Refurb Plan

Twenty thousand of Beijing's poorest families with at least one severely disabled member will benefit from a housing renovation program that will continue until 2010, the city's vice mayor Ding Xiangyang said on Thursday.

"Many disabled people spend most of their time at home, yet so much public money is spent on improving facilities and services outside the home," Ding said.

"It is therefore of great significance to help create a better home environment for people."

The housing project was launched in 2006 with the intention of helping those Beijing residents with the most severe physical disabilities, although anyone with a disability can apply, Ding said.

Five thousand homes will be renovated by the end of the year, he said.

Each family will receive an assistance package worth about 4,000 yuan (US$585), he said.

The refurbishments will include such things as the addition of handrails both inside and outside the properties, and the construction of access ramps for wheelchair users, he said.

Doorbells fitted with flashing lights and notice boards will be provided for deaf people, while walking sticks and special drinking mugs will be given to the blind, he said.

Under a related project, almost 2,000 free wheelchairs have been donated to disabled people in the city over the past two years, he said.

Beijing has almost 1 million disabled people - about 6.5 of its total population - of whom 70 percent are senior citizens, Ding said.

About 80 percent of the 100,000 disabled people who are of working age are currently in paid employment.

Meanwhile, as part of the city's policy to stop curable diseases from becoming physical disabilities, medics performed eyesight and hearing tests on 1.35 million newborn babies by the end of last year, Ding said.

"The health monitoring and examination system has been extended to 98 percent of all newborns," he said.

More than 1 billion yuan is taken from the employment security fund each year to finance a range of projects to help the disabled, he said.

But despite all the government-funded measures and the work of many private groups, more effort is needed to improve the public's awareness of the needs and value of the city's disabled community, he said.

"People have to start seeing disabled people as an important part of our society, and stop viewing them as a burden," he said.

The whole of society must work together to recognize disabled people's status and help to improve their living and working conditions, Ding said. "It is a glorious task and our solemn dedication to help these people," he said.

(China Daily September 5, 2008)

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