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Blind student makes jump to university

By LI LEI | China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-29 08:59
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Ang Ziyu (left) pays for food as part of a life skills training activity organized for visually impaired students at a mall in Shanghai on Aug 14, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Access to higher education is getting easier for people who have disabilities

Ang Ziyu, a blind student from Anhui province, shot to stardom this summer for getting extra high scores on the notoriously grueling national college admission test, better known as gaokao, and landing a spot at a mainstream college in Beijing.

The 19-year-old, who now studies information and computing science at Minzu University of China, became the latest inspiration for an estimated 17 million blind or visually-impaired Chinese people, as the central government has pushed for greater inclusiveness in tertiary education to the benefit of the nation's 86 million disabled population.

At age 3, Ang caught a retinal disease that eye doctors said would erode and eventually rob him of his sight by age 30.

He struggled through the first half of primary school using textbooks with extra-large characters and thereafter counted on his hearing as his sight deteriorated. By the time he finished middle school in 2016, Ang had become so reliant on parents and teachers to read his textbooks and test papers for him aloud that he decided to apply for a spot at a blind high school in Qingdao, Shandong province.

The decision to leave the mainstream education system was largely because the school of his choice was among the few blind institutions in China that offer the same academic lessons found in mainstream academies, in addition to programs designed for promoting Braille literacy. But Ang soon found that the academic training there was far less intense than at mainstream counterparts.

He feared his education there would chip away at his already slim chance to outperform millions of able-bodied competitors in the gaokao. A poor mark on the test meant he would end up in a special college that offers massage, music and other stereotypical majors for blind students.

After grasping the basics of Braille, Ang secured a position at a mainstream school in Hefei, capital of his home province, in 2017.From there, he attended marathon-like cramming sessions with able-bodied students, took the gaokao twice using Braille test papers and received 635 points on the 2020 exam, which is 120 points higher than the local admission line for key colleges.

With his dream fulfilled, the freshman shared an upbeat message: "Mainstream college is a miniature society, and enrolling at Minzu University of China will help prepare me for greater social involvement. … I will work hard academically and live an independent life to get fully prepared for society."

The gaokao-which tests students' knowledge of Chinese language and literature, mathematics, a foreign language and a barrage of other subjects of their choice-is one of the most closely watched annual events in China for its prominent role in maintaining social mobility and equal opportunities.

Ang's ascension to his dream college through the gaokao is an example of the growing inclusiveness of mainstream colleges.

Figures from the China Disabled Persons' Federation, which oversees disability policymaking, showed 12,362 such applicants were admitted to college through the gaokao last year, compared with 4,335 in 2005.

The progress is concurrent with a three-year program, which ended last year, that designated six universities, mostly mainstream ones, as front-runners in the recruitment of disabled students in hopes of gaining experience that other colleges could emulate.

During that period, China also standardized sign language and Braille in an attempt to bridge regional differences and to facilitate college education.

China officially banned discrimination against disabled students in the gaokao and college admissions in 1990 when it passed the landmark Disabled Persons Protection Law. It was reiterated in multiple rules that followed, including one in 2013 asking colleges to prioritize disabled students when multiple applicants hold the same scores.

In a major step forward, China unveiled a regulation in 2014 that required exam authorities to offer "reasonable conveniences" to disabled test-takers, including a 50 percent test time extension, Braille papers and exemptions from the English listening comprehension test for the hearing-impaired.

Cheng Kai, vice-chairman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation, said progress on that front has accelerated since 2012 as China ramped up efforts to build a "moderately prosperous society in all aspects" before 2021, which requires zero domestic poverty and improved welfare among the disabled and other vulnerable groups.

"More and more students are enrolled at mainstream colleges and are realizing their dreams," he said at a news conference on Tuesday with five disabled freshman studying in Beijing.

Zhang Yuexin, deputy head of the Institute of Special Education at Beijing Normal University, said the progress is also reflective of growing social acceptance for disabled students at colleges. who were barred from such institutions in the early 1980s.

"Colleges should set up assistance centers to help with integrated education so that disabled students can pursue their academic goals without too many worries," she said.

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