BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s huge disabled population will benefit from improved living conditions courtesy of next year’s Beijing Paralympics, an official said on Thursday.
There are nearly one million registered disabled people living in the Chinese capital with another estimated 81 million, roughly the population of Germany, in the rest of the country.
Conditions are far from ideal with only seven percent of those in Beijing employed and many around China facing discrimination.
“We believe that the Paralympics will enhance the international influence of China’s disabled people and give them more self-esteem as well as make them more confident and self-sufficient,” Tang Xiaoquan, executive vice president of Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG), told a news conference.
“The preparations for the Paralympics have accelerated the improvement of conditions for China’s disabled.”
The Paralympics will be held in Beijing from September 6 to 17 2008 and are the first to be organized by the same body as the Summer Olympics, which close two weeks earlier.
Earlier this year, an official at the China Disabled Persons Federation’s rehabilitation department said disabled Chinese face discrimination and lack of support such as wheelchairs and hearing aids.
“The disabled are a weak group so naturally they face many inconveniences,” Cao Yuejin said in April. “Many cities -- not to talk about the countryside -- do not have enough facilities that are obstacle free.”
Less than half of Chinese urban residents who need aids such as false limbs get them due mainly to costs, the director of the China Disabled People’s Equipment Development Centre, Xu Xiaoming, has said.
In the vast and poor countryside, no more than 2 percent of people who need such aids get them, she says.
As a part of the one-year countdown celebrations, Beijing has launched a centre to train the 30,000 volunteers required for the Paralympics. The centre will be used as a school to develop vocational skills among disabled people after the Paralympics.
There will also be a “barrier-free day” every three months to highlight the mobility problems faced by the disabled, Tang said, while the government has invested more than 80 million yuan ($10.61 million) to help in the purchase of special transport.
Tang said two obstacle-free train and 55 subway stations, 1,300km of sidewalks especially paved for the blind along with 2,100 wheelchair crossings had already been built in the city.
For the first time at a Paralympics, organizers will cover the international travel costs of the 4,000 or so athletes expected to compete in 472 events in 20 sports, officials said.