There are believed to be at least 83 million disabled individuals in China as described in the 2006 National Sample Survey on Disability, only one of two to have ever been conducted in the country (the other taking place in 1987). Eighty-three million individuals equates to roughly 6.3 percent of the Chinese population, however, only 22 million people were certified as disabled by the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) in 2016, rendering millions unable to access a range of services offered by the government, which include living allowances, medical services, employment support, and tax breaks. Conditions are especially arduous in rural areas where three-quarters of China’s disabled population reside, often in poverty, surviving on as little as RMB 7 per day.
One positive change for China’s entire disabled community was the introduction of more favorable terminology. Before 1990, people with disabilities were largely referred to as cánfèi 残废, literally “deficient” and “useless.” Today a more neutral word has been introduced – cánjí 残疾 – which combines the words for “deficient” and “sickness,” making for a closer approximation to disabled rather than crippled.
However, an alteration in people’s lexicon and attitude is only the beginning and the disabled in China continue to face many challenges in their everyday lives. This is especially true of education, where a high score on the gaokao – China’s competitive national college entrance exam – often guarantees a bright future but can be elusive for those in China with physical disabilities. China’s top institutions are slowly starting to appreciate that disability does not necessarily mean an impediment to mental ability, which is why many commended Beijing’s Tsinghua University when they accepted a disabled student from Gansu province in 2017, even providing him and his mother a free dorm room to live due to his unique circumstances.
China is taking steps towards improving the lives of the disabled but without a serious overhaul of the infrastructure that caters to the less-mobile, and a lowering of the standards for the China Disabled Persons Certificate, uncertified individuals will continue to be excluded from their local communities and exempt from the assistance they need.
Photo: China Plus