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Confidence comes from new vocations
By Zhang Yu (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-12-03 06:37

Wearing a black mask and a silvery white protective suit, Qin Zheng thrusts her sword at her partner who also makes a lunge.

Sitting in wheelchairs, Qin, 18, and her partner were practicing fencing in a training hall in Beijing.

Crippled for life since birth, fencing has given Qin a life she had never imagined possible because of her disability.

Born with spina bifida, one of the most devastating of all birth defects, Qin had to start using her wheelchair at a young age. She is just one of some 60 million disabled people in the Chinese mainland.

She became a disabled orphan after her parents abandoned her right after her birth. She was not only confined by the wheelchair, but also by the walls of the orphanage where she lived for almost 14 years. Four years ago, she was transferred to a social welfare institute.

"I wanted to get out of the social welfare institute, but at that moment I didn't know how," Qin told China Daily.

She didn't receive any regular school education, although she was able to learn a bit with a part-time teacher in the orphanage. Since no family members could help her out, she said she had to "think through everything" by herself.

"Before becoming a professional disabled athlete, I really did not know what to do," she said. "Every day I was living in agony."

Luck struck her three years ago when her present coach went to hand-pick candidates for disabled fencing athletes. After her muscle and limbs were checked, she was considered suitable for fencing.

Now she spends six hours in training during the day and tries her best to make up for her academic studies at night.

"Academic studies help me with the art of fencing," Qin said. Her most ambitious goal now is to perform her best at the 9th Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled in 2006.

With this new life, she is building up her confidence and feeling that she is making a meaningful contribution to society.

She said she feels liberated when she realizes how her new-found confidence has given her hope. She has more freedom than before.

Now she has even begun to dream big dreams with her eye on the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.

Zheng Li, 35, a man with a visual impairment, has the same kind of experience and is now forming similar goals. Several months before he graduated from a massage programme in a vocational school for people who are visually impaired, he was worried about his future job.

At that moment came an internship at Beijing Massage Hospital (BMH), a hospital attached to China Disabled Person's Federation and the birthplace of the country's medical massage by people with visual impairments.

Impressed with his skills, the hospital eventually hired him as a massage therapist.

It is here that Zheng has settled down and found his niche.

He turned out to be one of over 40 massage therapists, out of some 150 in the hospital, who are visually disabled.

"In the past 11 years, many colleagues reached out to help us visually disabled therapists," Zheng said.

With their help, he even realized his dream of entering college, which is still rare among disabled people in China.

The hospital, located in an old hutong in Beijing's Xicheng District, "has tried its best to help these disabled therapists conquer the difficulties in both work and life," said Lai Wei, director of the hospital.

According to Lai, every courtyard has sidewalks for the visually impaired, and there are rarely any steps before each clinic's room in case they may stumble over them. Many of them can operate the computer and log onto the Internet with the help of a special voice software, which can read out the text on the screen.

"Patients are more willing to turn to us for medical massage than my colleagues who don't have this disability," Zheng said, adding that it is probably because they have a very good sense of touch and concentration.

The ability to feel with fingers and focus the mind is very important in medical massage, Zheng said, and that's why doctors with visual impairments are more popular in BMH.

As for his new-found dreams, he said he has his sights set on the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

"It would be great if I could provide some service for athletes," Zheng said.

(China Daily 12/03/2005 page3)

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