27 05 2008

Disabled groups outraged by Beijing snub

by Ashling O’Connor, Olympics Correspondent

May 27, 2008

Times Online

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/olympics/article4009610.ece

Disabled groups reacted with outrage yesterday to an official guide for assistants at the Beijing Olympic Games that describes them as unsocial, stubborn and defensive.

The guide for Chinese volunteers at the Games this summer explains that disabled people are a “special group” with “unique personalities and ways of thinking”.

The section of the manual entitled “Skills for helping the disabled” goes on to say: “Some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective. They can be stubborn and controlling . . . defensive and have a strong sense of inferiority.

“Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially when they are called crippled or paralysed. Do not use ‘cripple’ or ‘lame’ even if you are just joking.”

The guide, distributed to 100,000 volunteers before the Olympics in August and the Paralympics in September, sparked outrage in among disabled groups.

“I’m stunned,” said Simone Aspis, a parliamentary campaigner at the UK Disabled People’s Council. “It’s not just the language but the perception that in 2008 we are considered a race apart. Disabled people are introverted and stubborn the same way anyone else is.” The handbook notes that “often optically disabled people are introverted” and that physically disabled people can be mentally healthy.

“They show no differences in sensation, reaction, memorisation and thinking mechanism from other people, but they might have unusual personalities because of disfigurement and disability,” it said.

“Never stare at their disfigurement. A patronising or condescending attitude will be easily sensed by them, even for a brain-damaged patient.”

The advice reflects decades of discrimination in China against mentally and physically disabled people, who total 83 million – equivalent to the population of Germany.

The Communist Party’s desire for a healthy nation, characterised by the one-child policy, fostered deep prejudices that extended to forced sterilisations, bans on marriages between disabled people and abortions of abnormal foetuses.

Most disabled people are from poor, rural areas. Those in affluent society were hidden away until public attitudes softened in the 1990s after Deng Pufang, the eldest son of the former leader Deng Xiaoping, campaigned for reform.

He was forced to use a wheelchair in 1968 after Red Guards forced him out of a third-floor window during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Besides improved legal rights, there has been social progress. The Chinese now refer to can ji ren, or people with disabilities, instead of can fei, the handicapped and deficient.

Last week the Great Wall and Beijing’s Forbidden City were made accessible to wheelchairs for the first time, with lifts and barrier-free tourist routes. But disabled people are still regarded with curiosity bordering on disdain. The manual reminds volunteers that they should not sit in someone’s wheelchair just to satisfy a personal interest.

Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain’s greatest Paralympian with 16 medals, recalls how people in China pointed at her and jostled to take her picture. She was asked how it was possible she had mothered a child because she was in a wheelchair.

“Treatment of disability is a problem, but the Paralympics will do more to change attitudes than anything that has happened in China in 10,000 years,” she said.

The presence of a special guide denotes progress, according to Mike Brace, the chairman of the British Paralympic Association. “It’s a clumsy attempt to override years of limited awareness. It’s not ideal, but up to seven years ago, they might not have acknowledged disabled people at all.”

About 4,000 Paralympians will compete in 20 sports in Beijing this September. Britain is sending a team of 200 athletes who will be trying to close the gap – on China.

Despite its record for descrimination against the disabled, China topped the table in Athens with 63 gold medals. The next most successful nation, Britain, managed 35.

FromAdvice to Oklympic volunteers

“Some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective. They can be stubborn and controlling; they may be sensitive and struggle with trust issues. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially if called “crippled” or “paralysed” ”

“When you make eye contact, do not fuss or show unusual curiosity. Never stare at their disfigurement. A patronising or condescending attitude will be easily sensed, even for a brain-damaged patient.”

“Often the optically disabled are introverted. They seldom show strong emotions.” 

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One response

28 05 2008
terrimodo

Education is the key! I am disabled and had a number of Chinese Students in the flat above me. Yes, they were all curious and didn’t treat me correctly at first, but it did improve and there is hope!

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