A Golden Cane for the visually impaired
Emerging from the Golden Cane program, my colleague and I took the subway. There we saw Chen Yan, a visually impaired piano tuner, being led by her guide dog, Jenny. Quite a coincidence, one must say, given that there are just 200 such dogs guiding the visually impaired in China. To get a perspective, there are over 1,800 pandas in the wild alone.
A security official who was passing by stopped once to look at Jenny before moving on. That's a positive development. But the transition did not happen overnight. Chen and Jenny had been refused entry into the subway 11 times before they were finally let in once the rules changed in 2015.
A lot more has changed. Since the 1980s, the visually impaired could only try entry into a college that taught music or massage, till they were finally allowed to sit for the national college entrance examination, or gaokao, in 2014.
Now several visually impaired people have cleared gaokao and are studying in universities, majoring in subjects of their choice, ranging from education to economics to political science. And after a good academic performance, they are also landing good jobs.
The policy progress apart, the social environment too has improved for the visually impaired. Golden Cane's latest workshop was conducted in a residential community in Beijing's Fengtai district. The visually impaired trainees were put up at a hotel across the road, and they had to cross a footbridge and then walk 300 meters to reach the classroom.
Initially, vendors blocked the path meant for use by the visually impaired. They refused to budge even on seeing the visually impaired trainees arrive. But they gave in and cleared the way on seeing their determination as the visually impaired kept trudging on despite the obstacles. Soon the community residents chipped in to ensure the path was clear for the trainees.
At the hotel where they were putting up, the waiters initially feared the visually impaired trainees might hit something and hurt themselves, apart from damaging something.
A week later, however, they were amazed to see how independent and confident their visually impaired guests were. The hosts had just to step aside to make way for them sometimes, while dissuading anyone who tried to help them by reminding them to treat the visually impaired guests as equals.
Equal access to education, fair treatment while applying for jobs, and acceptance in society are helping the visually impaired people overcome difficulties and live normal lives in China. However, a lot more remains to be done. Around 17 million people, or 1 percent of the total population, are visually impaired in China, yet they are seldom seen at public places.
Many paths initially meant for use by them remain blocked, many companies still refuse to hire them, and many people still do not treat them as equals. All these make it difficult for them to step out and face the world.
That's why it made sense to highlight Golden Cane's efforts to help the visually impaired join the mainstream. Only when more people learn of the problems the visually impaired face will they help in their assimilation in society. That is when being visually impaired will cease to be an obstacle for so many.