Access Wanted


汉语世界(The World of Chinese) 2021年6期

With the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games just around the corner, China has been renewing efforts to promote inclusion for people with disabilities in its cities. Beijing, the Olympic host city, has promised to upgrade the accessibility of over 1,000 tactile pavements, 10 bus stops, and 80 percent of its buses by the years end.

Yet the reality for inclusion can look very different on the ground, and one persistent problem is the lack of consultation with people with disabilities. Poorly maintained braille signs and illogical access ramps continue to restrict the autonomy of people with disabilities, while a lack of exam papers and textbooks in braille, as well as traditional efforts to impose a standardized sign language to replace grassroots varieties around China, pose barriers for those with disabilities in mainstream education and employment. Hints of change are appearing for the deaf community, with new efforts to reform sign-language teaching to be more accommodating of regional differences and more intuitive for users everyday life—but it remains to be seen if China can champion true inclusivity in every step of the decision-making process.


Illustration Design and Painting by Cai Tao and FengzhengYisheng

Hidden in Plain Sight

A lack of braille signage and braille education continue to present barriers for Chinas visually impaired

Having lost his sight at the age of 2 after botched operations for progressive glaucoma, Zhang Weijun remembers the curiosity he felt the first time he encountered braille on a bus stop in his hometown of Wuhan at age 11, the same year the city first installed it in public areas.

But the boys excitement quickly turned to disappointment when he traced the raised bumps on the sign, only to find several meaningless numbers, without any additional information such as the stop name and direction the bus was heading.

“I think the relevant officials just did it for show,” Zhang, now 26, says. “They probably thought, ‘just having braille is enough, it doesnt matter what it says.” A graduate student studying English translation in Beijing, Zhang prefers using audio navigation apps on his mobile phone to get around, rather than the limited number of public braille signs that are both hard to find and unhelpful to use.

Physical barriers, employment discrimination, and lack of education opportunities are struggles already familiar for the estimated 17 million people in China living with visual impairments. Yet the infrastructure meant to improve their mobility and access to public facilities, such as tactile writing (braille) and tactile pavements, can actually hinder rather than help the vulnerable due to poor implementation and designs that ignore their needs.

Though China has national regulations requiring braille signage and voice broadcasts to be available in public areas like bus stops, implementation has been a mixed bag. According to the Beijing Radio and TV station, the citys Xicheng district added braille to 16 bus stop signs in 2015, serving around 6,000 people with visual impairments in the district. However, two years later, journalists found many were poorly maintained, with tactile arrows indicating the direction of the bus worn off.

Similar anecdotes abound. On social media platform Zhihu, a blogger noted the braille elevator buttons in their apartment complex had the “Up” and “Down” symbols switched around. Zhang recalls an entire WeChat group where people with visual impairments shared their experiences of awkward braille signs, one member finding braille on a handrail in a subway station giving no warning about a stairway or indication of its direction—rather, it just said “handrail.”

China adopted its first tactile writing system, based on Louis Brailles code of six dots representing 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, in the 1870s, after the British missionary William Hill Murray established the Hill Murray Institute for the Blind (later renamed the Beijing School for the Blind). The institute owned a braille Bible, which inspired Murray and Chinese teachers to combine Brailles system and the Kangxi Dictionary into Kangxi Braille, also known as the 408 System or the Murray Numeral System, using numbers from 1 to 408 to represent 408 frequently-used Chinese characters.

Since Kangxi Braille was based on the Beijing dialect, and the numbering system was difficult to memorize, various forms of regional braille developed in the 20th century based on pinyin. To standardize these regional forms, the Ministry of Education (MOE) began to promote Current Braille or “New Braille” in 1953, a system invented by Huang Nai, then-chairman of the China Association for the Blind and Deaf, that combined Louis Brailles system with pinyin.

In the 1970s, Huang invented Two-Cell Chinese Braille to make up for the lack of tone markings in Current Braille, which contained a number of confusing homophones, adding an additional braille mark on each syllable to represent tones. Due to its complexity, however, Two-Cell Braille remains less widespread than traditional forms of braille among the visually impaired today.

In China, children with visual impairments can learn braille at specialized schools run by the local ministry of education up until they graduate from middle school, though there are a few of high schools for the blind. Free braille courses are also available for adults through local chapters of the government-run China Disabled Persons Federation.

But this is far from enough to ensure mass literacy for the visually impaired: In a 2021 paper, Luan Ou, editor of China Braille Press, stated less than 10 percent of Chinas visually impaired can read braille, as there are just 26 schools in China catering exclusively to them, and mostly just teaching the language at a basic level.

Specialized schools also separate children with disabilities from the mainstream school education system, making it harder for them to obtain university education and to merge into mainstream society after graduation. Since 1988, the MOE has championed “inclusive education (融合教育)”—initiatives to help students with disabilities attend regular schools alongside other children.

The MOE claims 95 percent of children with disabilities in China are enrolled in school as of 2020, but less than half of them (including 7,546 visually-impaired students) attend mainstream public schools. Mainstream schools have been slow to make provisions for visually-impaired students, such as braille textbooks, tactile pavements on campus, braille public signage, and teachers with special education training.

One barrier for inclusion in schools is a shortage of books published in braille. As of 2017, the Beijing-based China Braille Press, the only national non-profit press offering braille and large-print books and journals, has published over 60,000 books in 9,000 genres, a ratio of one braille book for every 288 people with visual impairments across the country. Much of the output is academic and professional, removed from the daily living and entertainment needs of ordinary people with visual impairments.

A limitation of publishing means education textbooks swiftly become outdated—Zhang started elementary school in 2002, but remembers his teachers using outdated textbooks from the 1990s. Liu Fei, a math teacher in the Wuhan School for the Blind who has participated in compiling textbooks, tells TWOC it can take up to three years to adapt a set of textbooks into braille.

The lack of braille publishing has boosted the development of voice technology. For visually impaired people who dont know braille, audiobooks provide a gateway to education and entertainment. In a 2019 research paper on audio resources in public libraries, Yuan Hailong, professor of law at Anqing Normal University, found that 58 percent of readers with visual disability use audiobooks, but such books fail to meet the needs of the visually impaired as a whole due to a lack of funding, staff, and quality content.

Despite the assistance of new technology, however, a lack of braille infrastructure continues to limit the education and employment choices of people with visual impairments. A 2020 report by Xinhua News Agency stated that a mere 200 visually impaired students across the country are admitted to mainstream universities each year.

Some provinces have refused to let students sit standardized admission exams, while many schools also refuse to enroll students who pass, claiming to lack braille test papers and textbooks, as well as instructors qualified to teach in braille—all of which had been made mandatory in all state-run universities as of 2008 according to the PRCs Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons.

Until 2014, students with visual impairments could only attend one of four universities in China and choose from just three majors—acupuncture and massage therapy, rehabilitation, and music performance techniques.

That year, however, a 46-year-old masseur named Li Jinsheng became the first blind examinee to take the national college entrance exam (gaokao) in braille after repeated negotiations with authorities in his native Henan province. Though his scores were too low to qualify him for university, Li said he hoped his story could blaze a trail for blind students to choose careers beyond traditional options like masseuse and piano-tuner.

According to state-broadcaster CCTV, a record number of 11 students from six provinces and regions took thegaokaoin 2021. Some universities that have enrolled visually impaired students since 2014 have provided audiobooks, digital textbooks, braille printers, and electronic screen readers to make up for a lack of braille books.

But authorities in Hubei province refused to let Zhang take the postgraduate entrance exams in 2019, claiming they had no resources or facilities to support blind students, and “no precedent” for admitting visually impaired students into postgraduate programs. He was only allowed to take the exams after three months of relentless negotiation with the local government, posting a letter to the governor of Hubei in a public message board of the Peoples Daily website.

Last September, Zhang became the first blind student to attend Beijing International Studies University. With few braille books and study materials available, he mostly relies on a computer and his classmates help to finish his coursework. After graduation next summer, Zhang plans to study abroad to take advantage of “more blind-friendly universities and facilities.”

In public areas, technologies such as voice broadcasts in elevators and AI assistants that can read texts on digital screens are reducing peoples dependence on braille. The Hongdandan Visual Impairment Cultural Service Center, a Beijing-based NGO that provides community services to the blind, recruits volunteers to record audiobooks and standard Mandarin pronunciation guides to help the visually impaired improve their competitiveness in the job market.

But founder Zheng Xiaojie doesnt think the modern technology can replace braille as, “Technology helps the visually impaired integrate into society, but it is by figuring out [how to read] braille that they receive systematic education and develop cognitive abilities.”

Liu, the math teacher, agrees. “Learning braille conforms to a childs learning process, just like how sighted people start by [learning language], and then are able to seek and build knowledge,” he says.

Educators like Liu see a future where new technology will work in tandem with braille for the greater inclusion of people with visual impairments into mainstream education and social services. “When you speak about education for the blind—blind people are people first of all, right? They live in the same world as everyone else, and require the same knowledge, its just that we need some special methods to make up for some abilities they lack,” he says.

“The most important part of education is to bring these kids [with visual impairments] back into society,” says Liu. “Its to let them know that they dont just have to become masseurs, but can do anything.”– YangTingting(楊婷婷)

Clockwise from top right: Braille signage should be made available in public areas; a slate and stylus enable the visually impaired to produce braille; braille on a handrail in a subway station

Many children with visual impairments learn braille at specialized schools

Tactile pavements and mobility canes help the visually impaired navigate their surroundings

Photographs by VCG

Signs of the times

China has 20 million sign-language users, but they struggle to understand each other

In a crowded classroom, artist Bai Fengxiang is lecturing more than 100 university students. His hands flit across the projector screen, making various shapes and gestures to convey the notion of a large canvas: 3 meters high, 8 meters wide.

“That action was very difficult to paint. A hearing person gave up halfway. I picked up and kept painting until it was done. The hearing person was speechless,” Bai signs with a proud grin and a thumbs-up. So were his students, at least outwardly—Bai, as well as his listeners, are all hearing-impaired.

This passionate lecture, captured by the documentaryEra of Sign Language(2010), is one of many that have brought the lives and communication styles of Chinas hearing impaired to the big screen in recent years, courtesy of director Su Qing. Su, who is hearing, acquired sign language in childhood from his older brother, who lost his hearing due to antibiotics used to treat a fever in early childhood, as well as from the deaf community in their hometown of Baotou, Inner Mongolia.

Driven by a desire to tell the stories of deaf people in China who remain mostly unseen and unheard, Su set out to visit the hearing-impaired around the country and film moments from their lives in 2001. This later culminated in several internationally screened documentaries, including alsoWhite Tower(2004) andCaro Mio Ben(2018).

But soon after he set out on his journey, Su started to have problems in communication. “Previously, when I communicated with my brother and his friends, I could understand almost everything, so I was surprised to find that in Shanghai, for example, I couldnt understand a lot of what [my interviewees] signed,” Su told TWOC over the phone. He sometimes had to resort to writing for communication before resuming shooting.

In the same way the spoken language known as “Chinese” has 129 recognized dialects, many of them not mutually intelligible, Chinese Sign Language (CSL) is also just an umbrella term covering the different regional varieties of sign language used by over 20 million hearing-impaired people in China, consisting of hand gestures, facial expressions, finger spellings, and body postures to convey meaning.

The term 手語 (“hand language”), for sign language, first appeared in Chinese records in the Tang dynasty (618 – 907). In theRecords Under the Autumn Lamp on Rainy Nights(《夜雨秋灯录》), a collection of short stories by novelist Xuan Ding (宣鼎) published in 1877, a deaf man and his hearing mother are able to convey simple messages to each other by signs such as a flat palm representing fish, while a hearing pawnshop owner shows his ring finger to the deaf man to signal “mother,” a sign apparently commonly understood.

However, there were no formal deaf schools or fully documented sign languages in China until 1887, when American missionary Charles Rogers Milles and his wife, Annette Thompson Milles, founded a school for the deaf in Yantai, Shandong province. Although the school adopted the oralism method, teaching students to read lips and speak by mimicking mouth shapes and breath patterns, a sign language naturally emerged among the congregation of deaf students.

In 1892, the second deaf school in China was founded in Shanghai by French Jesuits, which also educated deaf orphans with oralism. But because it recruited deaf students from local families who were already signing, the students soon began to communicate by sign language outside of class.

Since then, with the establishment of more deaf schools, as well as deaf communities, a multitude of local sign languages have developed across the country and transmitted from older students to younger ones, according to Dr. Yang Junhui, an expert on deaf education who teaches at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK.

Today, there are two main varieties of CSL: the North regional variety, which has more influence from spoken Chinese, and the South regional variety, which employs more visually-derived signs and facial expressions.

Many regional variants exist under these two large categories, with the main ones usually named after major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Chongqing, where deaf communities and schools for the deaf are both well-established. Even within the same city, graduates of different deaf schools can sometimes be identified by the differences of their signs, noted Yang in a 2015 paper.

Between the local sign languages of Beijing and Shanghai, even the most basic vocabulary words can differ, including those for family members, dates, and places. For example, the Beijing sign for “Lhasa” mimics the action of turning a prayer wheel commonly used by Tibetans, whereas deaf individuals in Shanghai would make a steeple shape with both hands, before moving the two hands away from each other with the thumbs and pinkies extended outward, evoking the temple roofs in the Tibetan capital.

Efforts to standardize CSL started in the late 1950s, in the same spirit as the movement to promote Mandarin, orPutonghua, across the country, according to Yang. But some attempts were in fact imposing spoken Chinese onto CSL.

The China Association for the Blind and Deaf began standardizing CSL in 1957, publishing a lexicon of standard signs in 1961, and several updates in the following decades. According to Guokr, a Chinese website on science and technology, the standard reference book includes many words based on fingerspelling pinyin, which is not intuitive to many deaf people as it transcribed the sounds of spoken Mandarin. A number of researchers have observed the standard variety of CSL is not popular among deaf communities, and many deaf people arent able to understand the sign language interpretation that accompanies news programs on TV.

In addition, the standard reference books only cover vocabulary and do not explain the grammar of CSL, which often has a different word-order from spoken Chinese. As a result, many hearing teachers trained in standard CSL lexicon sign using the syntax and morphology of spoken Chinese, or what is known as Signed Exact Chinese. Su, who attended classes at the local deaf school with his brother, remembers that a teacher, whose first language is not sign language, would use four to five gestures to indicate “please open the book,” whereas in the students first language, only two are necessary: “book” and “open.”

Yang observed that sign language has traditionally been viewed as a problem for deaf students that impedes their fluency in Chinese. In the 1950s, deaf education in China adopted the principle of “spoken language as major means, and sign language as auxiliary” under national guidelines, which means that deaf schools taught predominantly with oralism, with CSL and Signed Exact Chinese used as additional means of communication. While CSL still circulated among students, it was rarely used as a language of instruction, wrote Yang.

Most deaf individuals TWOC spoke to say that regional sign language differences are fairly easy to pick up. What is more difficult and disheartening is communicating with hearing individuals and the lack of an inclusive attitude from the hearing-dominated world. “Many hearing people dont recognize sign language as a language,” said Mei Xiaosheng, a teacher, in one of Sus documentaries. “They think deaf people are talking nonsense and [therefore] look down upon them.”

Another interviewee in the documentary said she had difficulty understanding the names of illnesses during hospital visits: “Its best to have a hearing person who can interpret for me, but my children are busy, and hiring a sign language interpreter costs money…so we often have to bear the pain by ourselves.”

Covid-19 has presented new challenges for those who lip-read. “During the pandemic, everyone wears masks, so I cant read lips to understand what they are saying,” Wang Wenting, a deaf designer, messaged to TWOC over WeChat.

In recent years, there is an increasing recognition of CSL as a full-fledged natural language, partially under the influence of deaf education philosophy from the West, noted Dr. Yang. The first experimental class on sign-bilingualism was piloted in Nanjing in 1996, using an international approach that teaches children both sign language and the written and spoken forms of societys dominant language. This approach uses CSL as the language of instruction, rather than presenting it as subordinate to Chinese or a tool to assist teaching the spoken language.

In addition, a new state-issued book of standard lexicon was published in 2018. Not only does the new reference book include a lot more entries, but it also takes a more descriptive approach that attempts to capture how CSL is currently used among Chinas deaf populations, instead of dictating how it should be used.

According to Guokr, deaf people made up three-fourths of the committee tasked with creating the new reference book. The committee invited sign language users from around the country to discuss optimal expressions for concepts.

As reported by the Beijing News, the new lexicon removes a number of pinyin-based words that caused confusion, and when regional differences are significant, especially between the North and South varieties, the book would list them all instead of making arbitrary choices.

While it remains unclear whether the Putonghua equivalent of CSL will permeate the whole country as Putonghua has done, some places have worked out their own solutions. In the sign language cafe in Hangzhou owned by Yang Di and her husband, illustrations on the walls showcase signs from both the Hangzhou dialect and the national standard.

Su, while continuing to make documentaries, has opened a restaurant in Beijing with his partner and co-director, where CSL is the lingua franca. With hearing-paired employees who come from all over the country and use different signs for food like eggplant, chocolate, and garlic, communication is sometimes an issue. Some items are particularly easy to confound: When one signs “sour” to mean vinegar, another might understand it to be plum juice.

“We set a standard for menu items and basic service language so that there would be no miscommunication,” Su says. “As for the rest, for deeper exchanges, [the employees] will slowly adapt to one other.” – Ningyi Xi (席寧忆)

A teacher leads students at a Haikou special education school in singing the national anthem in sign language

Illustrations at Hangzhous Sign Cafe help reduce the communication barrier between different dialects of sign language

Sign language guides in Yangs cafe reflect both the Hangzhou dialect and national standard

Photographs by VCG and courtesy of Yang Di

Breaking Barriers

Inclusion vs. reality in four cities

Sissi, Beijing

Im Sissi from Hunan province. I lived in Beijing for two years before moving to Belfast, Northern Ireland, in early October this year for a Masters degree in Inclusive Education. I had early-onset visual impairment from the age of two, which resulted in the complete loss of my sight.

I initially moved to Beijing for the diversity and tolerance it offers. For me, the key words are autonomy and opportunity: the autonomy of mobility, of thinking, and of making choices; the opportunity to “do” things.

Having worked with Easy Inclusion, a disability inclusion consulting firm, Im aware Beijing is leading Chinas accessibility policies. In 2019, the city released a two-year action plan that called for obstacle-free urban roads and accessibility in public transport and public venues. The plan also clearly outlined division of responsibilities between government departments. But in reality, my encounters with the citys current infrastructure have been mixed.

The facilities I used the most were tactile pavements, and buses, subways, and planes. My experience with the subway, the railway, and airports were mostly good. We can request for assistance when buying tickets, and staff will pick us up at the entrance, guide us through security and ticket checks, lead us on board, and coordinate pick-ups at our destination.

But I disliked Beijing buses. Some bus stops are not accurately marked on maps, and even when I managed to find them, there was no information on the bus number, the direction, or the time when the bus will arrive. There was always a lot of fumbling involved when taking the bus, not to mention that guide dogs are still frowned upon on buses if not completely rejected, despite policies stating they are allowed.

But bus puzzles are incomparable to challenges with tactile pavements. Its incredible how people almost never take the pavement seriously. Instead, they see it as a parking spot for anything that suits their convenience: bikes, scooters, vendor stands, boxes, cleaning tools, and more. This carelessness upsets me so much and it undermines my sense of safety. In Belfast, pavements do not just have tactile dots for guiding walking sticks, but vibrate and make sounds, thus aiding multiple types of accessibility. This makes me feel safe to go anywhere following the instructions.

To bridge the gap between policy and implementation, changes have to come in two ways, practical and attitudinal. Infrastructure like tactile pavements, bus services, footbridges, and traffic lights—they all can be much more accessible if the disability community can be consulted in the process of designing and implementing them. This is hard because the concept of “accessibility” is underpinned by social justice and equity, which in my opinion is in conflict with the top-down governance and cultural traditions were familiar with in the Chinese context. Policy-makers still look at disability inclusion mostly as a charitable issue, to be solved through centralized action instead of wider societal participation, so the general public sees people with disabilities and public spending on us as a burden. Removal of these attitude barriers is the prerequisite for genuine accessibility improvement.

Sissi at an art exhibition

Sissi with an official for diversity and inclusion at the British Embassy in Beijing

Photographs courtesy of Sissi

Yiming, Wuhan

Im Yiming from Qianjiang, Hubei province. I have been living in Wuhan for a little over three years, doing content operations in a tech startup.

Wuhan passed its own accessibility regulations in 2010, and just last year, the municipal government organized a team consisting of volunteers, academics, university students, and residents to supervise the accessibility level of the city and promote accessibility awareness. Do you see any problem there? This working team has no people with disabilities.

As a long-term wheelchair user, I mainly use ramps and elevators for mobility. Ramps can be found pretty easily nowadays, though they are not yet everywhere. But often the ramps are illogically placed or quite steep, making them dangerous and essentially useless for many. Im sure youve seen ramps with five turns leading up to a footbridge, or a ramp connected with stairs.

I consider this to be a “bug” in accessible infrastructure development. Its a frustrating example of how so-called “inclusive” infrastructures are not built with an inclusive lens and how nothing is done for us, with us. Sometimes I would call the citizen hotline, 12345, and file a complaint if things frustrate me too much. Ive reported troublesome ramps in subway stations, a mall, and in my own neighborhood. Normally, the response over the phone is positive, and sometimes I observed timely, concrete improvement.

Besides ramps, I take the subway quite often. Their service is generally good except at some stations: Hanjiang Station, for example, still does not have an elevator from ground floor to the platform. Wuhan Metro staff are helpful once youve made it into the station, but its much more convenient if we can get around completely on our own. Other public facilities also need more elevators.

One last thing I think deserves attention is the lack of accessible toilets in public spaces and private residences in Wuhan. Its a real problem when I need to look for so long for a wheelchair-friendly public toilet, or sometimes any toilet at all.

Clockwise from top left:Yiming visiting Microsoft Shenzhen on “Accessibility Day”; practicing boxing in a wheelchair with a coach; finishing the 8-kilometer race at the Wuhan Marathon in 2019; at Qintai Concert Hall in Wuhan; experiencing VR with tech employees

Photographs courtesy of Yiming

Chen Jing, Guangzhou

I came to Guangzhou from a village in Sihui, Guangdong province, when I was 9, so Guangzhou definitely feels more like home to me. I was born sightless, and Im now a music producer and pianist. I love Guangzhou as its so full of life, my friends and I love the opportunities it provides.

I travel around the city regularly to give piano lessons, and my main means of transport are buses and the subway. Guangzhou buses are not totally accessible for people with visual impairments, but there are mobile apps like Chelaile that indicate the buss route and time of arrival. I use these apps often, but sometimes a bus stop isnt covered by the app, then I will have to yell to ask the driver or fellow passengers. As for the subway, assistance provided by their staff is not bad. Basically, you can just tell them you need help, and they will happily give it.

Taxis also ease my mobility with accurate navigation apps. With navigation systems like the Beidou satellite GPS system, we can really feel how technology is reshaping visually impaired peoples quality of life. But I do wish more specific needs could also be considered. Take navigation apps—they dont work as well indoors, especially on lower floors of multi-level buildings where the signal is bad. The app can tell if its the right road to take, but not if its the right direction.

Guangzhou streets are generally built with tactile pavements, but I sensed that most are one-way only—meaning that by following the pavements, I can only go in one direction on a street. Its quite inconvenient if I want to make a detour. Overall, I think these pavements are behind the times. With their current design, their usefulness is close to non-existent.

All in all, I dont feel there are many things I cannot do on my own with the right technologies. Admittedly, the city can do a lot more to make things more accessible, but I like to think that in trying to condition myself to the public facilities, it could be my own way of adaptation and growth.

Attendants sometimes assist visually impaired passengers to board the bus

Photograph by VCG

Mywa, Chongqing

Im Mywa, a Chongqing native who has lived in this city most of my life. Having studied English education, Im an educator and translator. A wheelchair-user myself, I also attended a disability inclusion training program at Syracuse University in New York.

Hilly as it is, Chongqing is not as inaccessible for wheelchairs as it might look. True, its famously steep roads and long stairways raise extra difficulties for us, but electrified wheelchairs make traveling up and down easy. In fact, I find the idea that accessibility is necessarily worse in mountainous cities a myth, based on my experiences worldwide—if a road is walkable on foot, its supposed to be accessible by wheelchairs too; for another, cities that are less flat tend to pay more attention to accommodating various mobility needs of its inhabitants.

Chongqing is falling behind in what I call “the last steps” toward accessibility: I often travel up a ramp perfectly smoothly on an electrical wheelchair, only to find that it ends in some stairs. This happens so often that I sometimes wonder whats preventing the designers from just replacing those one or two steps with a ramp. Is it feng shui?

Chongqings elevators are also inconsistent. Shopping mall elevators are good so far, but the subway ones are disappointing. There are stations with broken, locked, or missing elevators. Once I had to wait more than 15 minutes for staff to open the elevator for me. It was truly a waste of time.

Getting onto the platform is one thing; getting into the subway train is another. It is simply impossible for wheelchairs to board when theres a height gap of 20 centimeters between the train and the platform, so I always need the help of the subway staff to carry me into the carriage. I have seen portable ramps in the subways of Beijing, Wuhan, Shanghai, and Nanjing, but they are not yet available here. And then, when we are in the train, the designated areas for wheelchairs are not always vacant. Only once has a subway driver helped me attach the safety rope.

Chongqing is said to be formulating its own accessibility regulations, but if theres still no enforcement of policies or any changes in this nonchalant attitude, its just going to be another paper lying quietly on a shelf.–PeixuanXie (謝佩璇)

An accessible ramp for wheelchairs on a Chengdu bus

Photograph by VCG


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