Opinion / Chen Weihua

People with disabilities deserve dignity

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2014-10-24 07:25

There is no doubt that China has beaten the United States in the development of high-speed railways. Americans return home from visits to China relishing their experience and mocking their own trains, such as those running between Washington and New York, as "steam engines".

However, public transport systems in the US, especially the buses, are much cooler than those in China when it comes to serving people with disabilities.

I discovered this on my first trip to the US in the early 1990s, when I spent a year in Honolulu, Hawaii. Riding often on Bus 4 between the University Avenue stop and Waikiki, I saw for the first time buses equipped with wheelchair lifts and ramps. There was nothing like that in China at the time.

While the bus conductor helped secure wheelchairs, other passengers waited patiently, and no one ever complained.

This is an everyday scene in the US but one rarely seen in Chinese cities.

It's not rocket science. So why can't China do it after decades of great urban transformation?

I believe it's all about awareness - of governments, lawmakers and society - and sensitivity to the needs of people with disabilities. There are about 36 million of them in the US and 85 million in China, many of them in wheelchairs.

Even in big Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai, only a tiny fraction of the public buses are friendly to wheelchair users. The number is, in fact, so small - only 0.2 percent of buses in Shanghai, according to figures from two years ago - that the service is virtually useless to most people in need.

Nor am I sure that most Chinese passengers, some of whom still like to push and shove when getting on a bus, would have the patience most Americans show in waiting for wheelchair users to board and disembark.

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