Twenty years-that's how long it took Beijing to evolve into a city for all. In September, when Paralympians from around the world gather in Beijing for their Olympics, they are expected to enjoy all the conveniences of a modern metropolis, not only because of its hospitable residents, but also because of the great efforts locals have made to make the city accessible to all.
After intensive renovations, a large number of Beijing's landmarks, including the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, are now accessible to the disabled. These achievements have promoted the Chinese capital's barrier-free environment to a new level.
Beijing only launched China's first barrier-free renovation project in 1985 and there was no blind track in the city, or the country, until 1991. From then on, however, the formulation and implementation of various municipal planning programs and statutes have given strong boost to the construction of barrier-free facilities. Half of the city's public service facilities and 80 percent of its public traffic hubs have eliminated all obstacles that prevent the disabled from using them.
Nationwide, the requirement on building identifiable paths for the blind on the sidewalk of major urban roads became mandatory in August 2001. This February, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, held the first deliberation of the draft amendment of the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of People With Disabilities, which stipulates that all new buildings must include barrier-free facilities up to the state standards and all existing buildings must be renovated according to the standards as soon as possible. The State Council later issued a circular containing the same requirements.
Now, the concept of "barrier-free" is no longer strange to both policymakers and Chinese citizens. Though China, including Beijing, still lags behind the world's advanced level in this field, it has largely filled the previous 100-year-long gap within the shortest time possible.
Behind the great leap is a rising awareness of citizens' rights, especially those of people who are disabled, in Chinese society. Most Chinese used to consider the disabled as a useless, disadvantaged group. For a long time, they were excluded from mainstream social activities. Even the government just focused on feeding and clothing them more than other assistance.
Due to the rapid development in China, more and more people have realized that the physically challenged can also play the same role in promoting social progress as all other citizens, as long as they live in a barrier-free environment and can participate in all social activities on an equal footing. This represents their legitimate right.
Thanks to this recognition, China's barrier-free construction will surely accelerate after the Paralympic Games, to meet the needs of the country's 60 million disabled citizens, as well as a ballooning aged population and millions of children, pregnant women and other people who need allowances made to their mode of movement.