Synopsis: Social attitudes towards people with disabilities have gone through a gradual change in China.
People with disabilities in China, prior to the year 1980, were referred to with discriminatory terms such as, "can fei," which means, "the handicapped and useless."
Social attitudes towards people with disabilities have gone through a gradual, yet fundamental change in China since then, thanks to the active advocacy of people within the disability community in China, as well as governmental support for disability initiatives. In China today the term, "can ji ren," meaning, "persons with disabilities," or, "disabled persons," is used commonly by people in the general public and official Chinese documentation in reference to people with disabilities.
China is the largest developing nation in the world today, with greater than sixty-million people who experience a form of disability. The figure of people with disabilities quoted is taken from the results of the 1987 First National Sampling Survey on Disability. Due to a series of constructive administrative and legislative actions, in combination with the work of disability organizations, the overall living conditions and social status of people with disabilities in China have improved to a great degree. Still, people with disabilities in China remain a vulnerable group of citizens in China, encountering specific difficulties in a society with an economy under enormous market-oriented transition. There is still a great deal to be accomplished in order to realize the full equality, participation, and sharing of people with disabilities in China.
The majority of the laws and policies related to people with disabilities in China use the definition of disability in the, "Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons," that was promulgated in the year 1990. In accordance with the law, people with disabilities are referred to as those who suffer from abnormalities of loss of a certain organ or function, psychologically or physiologically, or in anatomical structure and has lost wholly or in part the ability to perform an activity in the way considered, "normal." The term, "disabled persons," is used in reference to people with, "visual, hearing, speech or physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, psychiatric disabilities, multiple disabilities and/or other disabilities." The criteria for classification of disabilities in China is established by the State Council, the cabinet of China"s central government. China"s definition of disability, as well as their policies and standards related to people with disabilities, were strongly influenced by the medical-social models of disability that became popular during the 1980's. The models included the World Health Organization"s, "International Classification of Impairment, Disability and Handicap (IC-IDH)."
The Constitution in China provides a general principle regarding the protection of people with disabilities, with Article 45 establishing that, "all citizens ... have the right to material assistance from the state and society when they are old, ill or disabled." The State develops the social relief, medical, health, and social insurance services required by Chinese citizens with disabilities for them to enjoy this right. Their Constitution also says, "...the state and society help make arrangements for the work, livelihood and education of the blind, deaf-mute and other handicapped citizens." There are also greater than thirty national laws in China containing specific provisions related to people with disabilities and the protection of their rights, involving Criminal Law, Civil Law, Educational Law, laws in regards to higher education, Labor Law, and more.
The Law regarding the, "Protection of Disabled Persons," enacted in the year 1991, is of particular significance to the protection of the rights of people with disabilities in China. The law contains fifty-four articles and nine chapters, addressing education, rehabilitation, cultural life, welfare, employment, legal liability, and further legal information. Article three of the law contains a principle related to anti-discrimination, stating: "Disabled persons are entitled to enjoyment of equal rights as other citizens in political, economic, cultural and social fields, in family life and other aspects. The rights of disabled persons as citizens and their personal dignity are protected by law. Discrimination against, insult of and infringement upon disabled persons is prohibited."
The law, in Articles forty-nine through fifty-two, also establishes provisions for the enforcement of disability-related laws, listing types of rights and violations, as well as the repercussions of breaking the law. The articles refer to applicable civil and criminal laws, as well as administrative procedures.
In China there is a, 'mixed system of integrated education and special education,' that has apparently increased the educational opportunities for people with disabilities. The, 'China Disabled Persons' Federation,' has reported that in the year 2000, the overall enrollment rate of students who were blind, deaf or who experienced a form of intellectual disability was approximately seventy-seven percent; a rate lower than the national enrollment average of children without disabilities. The year 2003 in China found nearly 323,000 children with disabilities lacking access to education due to factors such as poverty, although initiatives such as, "Project Hope," and, "Spring Drizzle," are attempting to assist those who have dropped out, to include children with disabilities, to return to school.
Mainstream schools accept students with disabilities, although special education is available as well. Students who are deaf, blind, or who experience a form of intellectual disability may choose to study in either. Large numbers of physically disabled students, and some students with intellectual disabilities, may not have been accounted for by Chinese authorities as being students with disabilities because they usually pursue their studies in mainstream school environments. A lack of accessibility and reasonable accommodations on campuses presents barriers to students on occasion.
The Chinese health care system is currently experiencing a transition from the previous system referred to as, 'medical care at public expense,' to one that is more or less market-oriented and based upon financial responsibility that is shared by people, employers, as well as the state. People with disabilities have access to health care services on an equivalent basis with non-disabled persons through available services; particularly rehabilitation services, which may not be available for large numbers of others. While many people who are employed used to and might still use medical service at public expense, more people are buying basic medical insurance in China at this time, to include people with disabilities.
The law in China places great emphasis on the importance of rehabilitation, with the government including rehabilitation in national and social development programs. The Chinese government has both developed and supported rehabilitation programs with the goal of mainstreaming and facilitating the participation of people with disabilities in society. The programs include speech training for children who are hearing-impaired, sight-restorative cataract surgery, low-vision training, the provision of assistive devices, and corrective surgery for people who experience forms of physical disabilities.
Millions of people in China receive rehabilitation services, delivered through rehabilitation centers, as well as through Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) initiatives. CBR has the goal of improving the physical functioning and independent living skills of people with disabilities, with the end result being to facilitate their participation in both social life and their community. The CBR's are an important part of the rehabilitation efforts in China; according to the, "National Program on Disability in Tenth Five-Year Plan Period," greater than five-million Chinese citizens with disabilities received rehabilitation services through the efforts of the government and their communities between the years 2001 and 2005.
The Chinese government, as well as non-governmental organization's, have collaborated to respond to the needs of people with disabilities; particularly people in poverty-stricken rural regions who cannot afford rehabilitation services. One such program is called, 'Rehabilitation Among Leprosy-Disabled Persons;' another is called, "Helping the Hearing Impaired by Donating Hearing Aids." These programs have helped more than one-million people. With support from the commercial banking system in China, the Government has also established a project known as, "Rehabilitation for Poverty Reduction Among Persons with Disabilities." Between the years of 1996 and 2000, the project received 2,210,148,000 RMB yuan worth of funding to assist people with disabilities in poverty. In the year 2003, the project received approximately 650 million RMB yuan.
Nearly 83.9% of the population of people with disabilities in China were reported to be employed in the year 2003, although that number is most likely lower than the number of people in other populations in the nation. The year 1987 in China found just over fifty-percent of people with disabilities in urban areas and 60.55% in rural areas employed. The employment situation for people with disabilities has vastly improved, a far cry from that experienced by people with disabilities in America.
The right to work is guaranteed by the law in China, which states that, "No discrimination shall be practiced against disabled persons in employment, engagement, status regularization, promotion, determining technical or professional titles, payroll for labor, welfare, labor insurance or in other aspects." Employers in China, such as state-run welfare enterprises, should apparently not deny people with disabilities employment. The Chinese government has a quota system; by the year 2003, the quota scheme policy was practiced by 1,519 counties and 640 cities in all of China"s 31 provinces.
The quota requires every public and private employer to reserve no less than one and a half-percent of all job opportunities for people with disabilities. Employers in China are required to do this in accordance with regulations that have been established by local provincial governments. Employers who fail to meet the quota have to pay the, "Disabled Persons" Employment Security Fund,' which in turn supports vocational training and job placement services for people with disabilities. Taxation authorities and organizations are involved in monitoring processes.
The Chinese government also promotes self-employment on the part of people with disabilities through tax incentives and technical, financial, and additional resource assistance. There are more than three-thousand employment service centers in China that establish financial support from the government and local communities, providing services that range from vocational training to job matching and consultation to people with disabilities seeking employment.
In the city of Shanghai, the majority of the local television programs are broadcast in alternative formats, such as with subtitles, or in sign language. In a number of other parts of China, accessible communication is still a new and underdeveloped concept. China does; however, have a standardized national sign language. Publishers produce Braille and audio reading materials, including Braille versions of China's constitution and additional major laws of the nation. Due to limited resources, a gap remains between supply and demand. Braille and audio materials are many times only available through libraries and activity centers in major cities and towns. People with disabilities in economically developed regions find that there are a number of newspapers that are both popular and run by people with disabilities, such as the Chinese Times in Beijing. There are disability-specific journals and newsletters such as, "China Disability," as well or, "Blind People in China," which is printed in Braille.
Efforts on the parts of advocacy and disabled peoples' organizations have found high-tech devices that accommodate the needs of people with disabilities appearing in China. User-friendly mobile phones, pagers, and internet-based communication technologies and services have been developed in China for people with hearing or visual impairments. Websites such as, 'Deaf Online,' have become popular among hearing impaired young people in China. One of the issues associated with these items is that they remain expensive, benefiting only small groups of young people with disabilities in cities. A number of people with disabilities still face communications barriers in China.
The level of accessibility related to inner-city transportation in China has improved at a rapid rate. Accessible bus lines started operating in Beijing in November of 2004; city authorities have promised more accessible bus and subway lines in coming years. In China"s southern city of Shenzhen, a newly constructed accessible subway system began operation in the year 2004 as well. The majority of the nation"s major airports are now accessible. The Ministry of Railways is developing new by-laws on accessibility for China"s railway areas.
Access to both information and communication for people with disabilities is something that is guaranteed by Chinese law. In the years 2004 and 2005 the governmental ministries, civil society, as well as disabled peoples" organizations co-sponsored two, "Information Accessibility Seminars," that were attended by delegates and experts from the Ministry of Information Industry, the China Disabled Persons" Federation, the Ministry of Sciences and Technology, the China Blind Association, and greater than thirty media and twenty locally and internationally renowned corporations - to include IBM, Motorola, Simens, and Microsoft. The participants discussed means for the creation of an accessible information environment for people with sensory disabilities through legislation, as well as the use of accessible technologies such as web design, programming, and communication format adaptation.
People with disabilities have the same right to housing in China as others on an equal basis, although some own their own homes and are entitled to equal access to public housing programs. The majority of people with disabilities in China are believed to live with their families and care providers; in China, families usually play an important role in providing care for family members with disabilities.
Approximately seventeen-percent of people with disabilities in China live in poverty; the majority of them in rural areas. Nearly 140,000 families with members who experience a form of disability do not have adequate housing, with another sixty-thousand living in housing in poor conditions and in need of renovation. The Chinese government is working with local partners on a program called, "Helping Poor Disabled Persons in Renovating Housing." The project is funded by central and local governments and other sources. Disabled peoples" organizations and local communities are contributing manpower and technical assistance to households in need. The program started in the year 2003.