Handicap Access in China

Don’t count on it. 
 
When I was a child in elementary school in the USA, handicapped children were still shunted off to institutions.  I remember the movement, spearheaded by parents of handicapped children, to get their children "mainstreamed" into ordinary classrooms.  In fact, I think the word "mainstreaming" was coined about this same time.  It was a novel concept.    
 
I remember the principal of my elementary school openly griping about how difficult and expensive it would be to retrofit my school, built with nothing but concrete stairs, so that handicapped children could ascend to classrooms on the second floor.  I also remember the undercurrents of resentment and ridicule expressed, occasionally, at the expense of retrofitting public buildings so that courthouses, libraries, and tax offices would be accessible to handicapped people.  
 
Fortunately, with the help of a few well-placed court battles, the advocates won.  Now, twenty or thirty years later, I would find it shocking in the USA to find any building widely used by the public, including restaurants, that was not accessible by wheelchair. 
 
Because of its contrast with American buildings, the general lack of handicap access is something that shocked me when I came to China.  There is some handicap access here, but it’s just as likely that a building won’t have it.  Or, when there is handicap access, it’s quite likely to be very inconvenient to use or  to be set up in such a was as to make its user feel very conspicuous.  For example, there is handicap access in the subway stations.  You have to call an attendant to unlock a little chair that slides up and down a railing over the staircase. 
 
Some will argue that it’s a matter of resources, that China simply doesn’t have the resources to spend on handicap access.  I don’t buy this argument.  Failure to enable access by a handicapped person also wastes human resources in the form of what that person could contribute to society if he had access.  We learn from experience as a society that not only do handicap people have valuable talents, they also have valuable perspectives supplied by their unique challenges. 
 
And I also don’t buy the "resources" argument.  There is plenty of money in China.  Someone recently told me that there is more money in my area of Guangdong Province than there is in all of Hong Kong.  I believe it.  The economy here is going great guns, as one look at all the new skyscrapers will tell.  It’s simply a matter of priorities and who gets what. 
 
Given the contrast, the ubiquitous presence of handicap facilities in the USA is something I’ve come to appreciate very much about my own culture. 
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