“World-class metropolitan city” not only refers to gigantic economic scale, large population and emerging high-rise buildings, but also civilization, excellence of care for all residents, and the constant improvement of social welfare and living standards.
As one of China’s most successful special economic zones and the country’s pilot demonstration area, Shenzhen is now making efforts to become more civilized and spiritually enriched. In order to make the city more accessible for the disabled and other disadvantaged persons, the city has designated Dec. 5 as No-barrier Access Day for enhancing awareness among the general public of the issue of mobility for disabled and handicapped citizens. It also vows to set up a sound supporting mechanism for the physically and mentally challenged persons by 2025.
By the end of 2018, Shenzhen had 26,718 residents with disabilities. According to statistics from the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, the country now has a total of more than 85 million people who need no-barrier access to facilities and transportation. Generally speaking, the disabled and the elderly are often trapped in restrictive units and are unable to gain access to public resources. Moreover, given such a large number of people who need special services in China, accessibility cannot be achieved easily or quickly. It requires money, time, education, promotion, law enforcement and changed mindsets.
Firstly, it should be required that newly built housing estates, welfare centers and especially public buildings in China include barrier-free facilities for the disabled, elderly, pregnant women and children. Failure to fulfill this requirement should result in denied approval upon final inspection. Meanwhile, governments at all levels should allocate special funds to overhaul, renovate and improve those existing facilities for disadvantaged people in neighborhoods, transport terminals, schools, libraries, banks, theaters, museums, supermarkets, hospitals, parks, toilets, shopping malls, parking lots, tourism spots, and other public landmarks and infrastructure.
Promotion is of special significance. Many seniors and people with disabilities cannot read accessibility signs and don’t realize the convenience barrier-free facilities can offer, thus rarely taking advantage of them. It is the social responsibility of mass media to open special columns and popularize such knowledge to people in need. To facilitate the information dissemination process, Shenzhen can take a nationwide lead to initiate a week of promoting the availability of such facilities before or after the International Day of Disabled Persons, which falls on Dec. 3 every year.
School education on enhancing the public’s awareness for treating physically and mentally challenged persons with equal respect is an important part of cultivating a civilized society. Colleges and vocational schools should be encouraged to open majors and courses related to accessible service to train professionals and volunteers in the sector. Since disabled people have fewer employment and education opportunities, priority should be given to the development of special education organizations as well as rehabilitation centers and social welfare institutions.
Law enforcement can guarantee the rights of special groups. For quite a long time, China’s barrier-free facilities have been nothing more than decorations hung on the wall. The illegal occupation and damaging of accessible facilities are frequently seen in Chinese cities, and such wanton actions are rarely punished. Law enforcement departments should strengthen inspections, step up related accountability systems and impose more severe penalties on wrongdoers and violators, so as to form a law-abiding atmosphere in the country.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)