Paralympics benefit Chinese

BEIJING, Sept 6, 2007 - Some of China’s 80 million handicapped are already benefiting from the Paralympics, a sports event for the disabled which opens in Beijing one week from Thursday, officials said.
The Paralympics is traditionally staged shortly after the closing ceremony of the summer Olympic Games and next year will be no exception, with the Beijing event running from September 6-17.
The city government is working on a plan to improve mobility and accessibility to transport for the handicapped in anticipation of the arrival of 4,000 disabled and wheelchair-bound athletes, said Tang Xiaoquan, president of the China Disabled Persons Federation.
Those efforts will provide a lasting legacy for the city’s handicapped, she added.
We have a special plan to ensure that people with disabilities and all the athletes will have access to wherever they want to go,'' Tang told a press conference. Already there has been remarkable progress.’’
Beijing is upgrading its subway system, buses, airports and train stations to accommodate the needs of the handicapped, she said.
Wheelchair athletes will even be able to get to the top of the Great Wall unaided.
The last time China staged a major event for the disabled, soldiers had to carry them up to the top of China’s most famous monument.
That was in 1994 and it was a real shame,'' Tang said. But it will not happen again.’’
The city has already put on dozens of handicapped-accessible buses, laid 781 marked tracks for the blind that run for 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) on its sidewalks, and installed 21,000 curb ramps, said Tang.
The improvements are being felt beyond the capital and across the whole country, she said.
China’s state council, or cabinet, set up a five-year development plan for the disabled last year, calling for compulsory education, guidance and training for handicapped job seekers.
Beijing is the leading Paralympic sports nation, topping the medal table in Athens in 2004.
However, China’s 80 million handicapped have traditionally suffered social discrimination, as well as in education and job opportunities.
The staging of the Paralympics is part of efforts to change that, according to Jiang Xuaoyu, vice-president of the Beijing Olympic organising committee, which is also running the Paralympics.
``We are trying to put in place a social atmosphere that cares about the handicapped and this is a challenge,’’ he said.