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Disabled in Beijing Enjoy Easier Access to Public Facilities

The physically disadvantaged people in Beijing have been enjoying a better life thanks to improved barrier-free facilities, legacy of the 2008 Beijing Paralympics in September.

At the National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA), two workers were assigned to take care of the wheelchair access. "Although the Paralympics are over, we still see about 20 people every day who need the service," they said.

Yang Xiaoxin, who had just returned to China from the US, was helping her 54-year-old elder sister to tour the Tian'anmen Square. Her sister had difficulty in walking due to leg illness.

"I have found that our people and the government have become more aware of disadvantaged persons," she said, "And barrier-free facilities have been improved a lot."

"But the signs and directions are not easy to follow, especially in subway and railway stations. We often have to consult the staff to find access," she added.

An official surnamed Liu at the Beijing railway station explained, "It's easier if the disadvantaged persons contact our staff as soon as they arrive. We have arranged workers to offer help and directions to them."

The taxi is another option for the disadvantaged. Teng Fang, an official with the Beijing taxi control center, told Xinhua that 70 barrier-free taxis were available during the Olympics and they are still in service now.

"We receive dozens of calls every day making appointments," she said.

"The Beijing Paralympics left us with a wide range of improved facilities. More importantly, it raised awareness from the whole of society to care more about the disadvantaged," said Zhao Chunluan, an official with the Beijing Association for the Disabled.

Before the Olympics, Beijing municipal government installed 107 lifts for the disabled in the subway stations and adjusted 300 bus stops to provide better access. In addition, the city had about 2,800 special buses.

About 880 streets in the city have pavements for the blind. The majority of the public who were interviewed said they were aware of the use of these pavements.

"Sometimes I walk on these pavements when the roads are too narrow," a university student surnamed Zhao said, "But if a blind person is there, I will definitely make way for them.

A man surnamed Wang lost his sight during an explosion accident two years ago. His wife, who always guided him, said, "We never encounter any difficulties when we go out. On buses, people always offer seats for us."

"The Paralympics have raised the society's awareness to help the disabled, especially in host cities such as Beijing and Qingdao," said Shi Zhenxiang, executive councilor of the Association of the Disabled in the eastern Shangdong Province

"However, many problems remain to be solved, such as perfectly healthy people walking on pavements for the blind and the dysfunction of barrier-free facilities," said Shi.

"If a law is there to carry on the experience of the Paralympics, I believe China's future of caring about the disabled will be better."

(Xinhua News Agency November 14, 2008)

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