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Disability Care in China


In China the number of people with disability comprise of 42.77 million men and 40.19 million women. 25.96% of them reside in urban areas while 75.04% live in the rural areas. The number of people with disability in China is as follow:

Visual disability – 14.86% (12.33 million)
Hearing disability – 24.16% (20.04 million)
Speech disability –1.53% (1.27 million)
Physical disability – 29.07% (24.12 million)
Intellectual disability – 6.68% (5.54 million)
Mental disability – 7.40% (6.14 million)
Multiple disabilities – 16.30% (13.52 million)

The quality of disability care and attitude towards disability in China reflects the gradual increase in social acceptance among its citizens. The shift in the language used to describe disabled people is an indication of improvement in social attitudes of the people. Prior to the year 1980, disabled were referred by the discriminatory terms “can fei” which means handicapped and useless and “can ji” which translate to “disabled and sick” or deformed. The active advocacy of disability support groups created a fundamental change in the term used to describe people with disability. Today, the term “can jiren” meaning “disabled persons” or persons with disabilities” is commonly used by the official Chinese documentation and the general public.

The low acceptance of people with disability in China can be traced back in mainstream Chinese Buddhism. They have a belief that disability is a punishment for sins in the previous life. Buddhist often believes that a disabled person must have been a thief, rapist or a murderer. National strength is very important in China. The Maternal and Infant Health Law of 1995 instituted checks on the health of potential parents before marriage. The law encourage the abortion of ‘deformed children’ if detected in the womb. It also supports the voluntary sterilisation of people with disability.

China is one of the countries with a wide ranging protection of the civil rights of people with disability. In 1990 the Laws on the Protection of Persons with Disabilities was introduced in China. People with disabilities is defined by the law as people 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 laws guarantee education, employment, welfare and access to its disabled citizens. The government is doing constructive administrative and legislative actions with the help of disability organisations. These actions improved the living conditions and social status of disabled people in China.

Despite the wide coverage of the law, China makes little concessions to people with disability. There is a gap between law and practice. The problem stems from institutional aspects of the government. In reality, the Chinese government barely took an interest in its disabled citizen save from disability support groups that deal with specific conditions. The China Disabled Persons’ Federation which is a quasi-government organisation is the leader in disability care in China. This activist movement is driven by people with disability themselves. CDPF provides rehabilitation services through rehabilitation centres and Community-Based Rehabilitation initiatives. Despite the government initiatives people with disabilities still remain a vulnerable group of citizens in the country. There is still a great deal to do realize full acceptance, equality and participation of disable people in China.

The promise of the law goes unfulfilled across the country. The law mandates that children with special needs are entitled to proper education. Yet twenty-eight percent of disabled children cannot access basic education.Human Rights Watch reported in 2013 that there is a lack of access to education outside the large cities. Most of China’s disabled population live in the rural areas resulting in 43% illiteracy rate among people with disability. Handicap International reported that only a third of the disabled population receives the services they need and only 55% gets assistive devices such as prosthetics, walkers or adapted software.

Access to education is a major problem in China. The 28% of the disabled children cannot access basic education. Disabled students who graduated from high school are traditionally barred from attending regular universities. The competitive national college entrance exam only became accessible to the blind in 2014. Students who passed the exam may be barred from universities if they fail the physical fitness test. The issue on education affects the employment rate of disabled people. Only 40% of people with disability are employed. 64% of them are male and 36% of them are female. Most employed blind Chinese are massage therapists because it is the only career open to them.

People in wheelchairs are experiencing accessibility issues in public places and restaurants even in large cities. Although there is a disabled accessibility requirement for new buildings, older buildings are not mandated to follow. Wheel chair access is a challenge particularly in rural areas where houses have thresholds to keep the devils out. Most Chinese citizens have no idea of the importance of accessibility and how it can benefit people with disabilities. There is also a lack of public knowledge regarding how to make places accessible to people with disabilities.

The care for children with disabilities is the primary responsibility of the parents. Most parents are experiencing discrimination from outsiders because of their children’s situation. The cost of raising a child with disability is more expensive compared with normal children. The cost ranges from 16,500 RMB for children with physical disability and 6,400 RMB more for children with mental disability. This results in families spending more money on caring and medical cost and less on education and clothing. Carers of children with disabilities are reporting higher levels of stress due to meeting the children’s daily needs.

Improving the disability care for people with disabilities in China involves multi-pronged approach. It needs the government working hand in hand with the people to succeed. Disabled people need to be educated about their human and legal rights. Social movement advocating policy change is needed to change the public attitude towards people with disabilities.