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August 26, 2008

Handicap Accessibility in Beijing

With the Paralympics coming up in less than two weeks, it’s a good time to address handicap accessibility in Beijing. I made a mental list of everything unexpected I had experienced after my first week in China -- the complete lack of handicapped Chinese was at the top. It’s now day 56, and I have yet to see a single wheelchair in the city. Where are all the handicapped people? There are plenty of elderly Chinese, sure, but are they completely immune from major disabilities? The Chinese think I’m an unusual sight? Wait till them come across an army of Westerners in wheelchairs.


But how has the city prepared to welcome their disabled friends? From what I’ve seen, Beijing hasn’t made much of an effort to make the city wheelchair accessible. The newer subway lines offer elevators and wider entrance gates, but will people make room for wheelchairs on packed trains, or offer up their seat at the drop of a hat to someone obviously in need? I have seen it happen a few times -- for young children, the elderly, and pregnant women.

At venues, there are dedicated seating areas for the handicapped, but they were always empty during the Olympics. There are plenty of stairs and escalators in the city, but few elevators, and even fewer ramps. Even short staircases, such as the one seen below at the Bird’s Nest, are far more commonplace than ramps.


Handicapped tourists coming to watch or participate in the Paralympics should have access to all the competition venues, but visiting many of the city’s historical sites, and even some restaurants and hotels, will prove a challenge. If you’ve been a handicapped tourist in Beijing or elsewhere in China, please chime in. To those of you coming to town for the Paralympics -- good luck! Please keep in touch.



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