Paralympic-Sized Headache

So, with one hand I like to pat on the back, with the other, I'll deliver a major slap across the face. I have the utmost confidence that Beijing will be ready for the Olympics on August 8th of next year, but with the countdown to the Paralympics set at 273 days, I'll be more than a little shocked if the city can pull things off for those games without a hitch.

This post is going to focus on transportation, first off, if you thought Chinglish was dead in our fair city, Beijingers, fear not. Did you know that game-fighting was forbidden on the staircases of subway stations? Well, now you know! For all you budding game-fighters, do it on a subway staircase at your own risk.

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled blog entry. For those visitors with disabilities who are coming to watch the Olympics (or for disabled fans in town for the Paralympics), well, you have an uphill task ahead of you. The competitors are bound to be treated to a sort of Potemkin city in that their movements will surely be "restricted" to "tours" which are bound to have fully accessible buses that will take them wherever they want to go. If they do venture out on their own, they are in for a pretty difficult time. This will focus solely on transportation issues.

I would estimate that currently 1% (but probably more like 0%) of Beijing buses are accessible for wheelchair users. For the blind, bus stops are called out by a recording or in some cases by the ticket taker, but getting on buses can be difficult because stations are usually serviced by a multitude of buses and there is really no way to know which bus has arrived at the stop and no time to ask in the chaos of 2 (or more) buses arriving at once.

If buses aren't a good option, what about the subway, you ask? While I highly recommended the subway to all non-disabled travelers to Beijing in my earlier post, I wouldn't recommend it to the disabled. Just look at the chaos I described on the modern Beijing subway and imagine going through that blind. While the transfers to/from Line 1 and 2 aren't bad, going to Line 5 and 13 is extremely difficult (which is why so few blind people venture out alone, more on that in a future post, though). For wheelchair users, you're in for an even rougher time. One would think Line 5 would be built to be accessible, however that is far from the case. While there are elevators, stairs aren't totally avoidable (though they have set up lifts at the staircases). As for Line 1 and 2, there are no elevators and there are just too many stairs for lifts at the platforms, making the stations virtually inaccessible. But that's getting ahead of ourselves, because first you need to get into the station and even the station entrances aren't accessible. Only Line 1 stops from Xidan to Dongdan have both up and down escalators at station entrances. Elevators? You must be dreaming. This won't only cause difficulties for the disabled, but also for older visitors who are visiting the city, get used to climbing stairs.

The Olympics website offers this:

Obstacle-free service -- For the sake of welcoming the Olympic Games, all
the municipal authorities of Beijing Municipal Government are sparing no efforts
to reconstruct the obstacle-free facilities in Beijing, including the
obstacle-free buses, bus stops, slopes, bathrooms and blind roads [ed. note: I believe this is referring to the yellow paths in the sidewalk, which are often more dangerous than walking on the regular sidewalk] across the whole city. If you or your family members traveling along are the spectators with special demands, including the old, the young, the sick, the disabled and the pregnant, you may leave the marks on the reservation sheets for Olympic tickets, and then you'll receive one free copy of the Guide to the Obstacle-free Information Service of the Olympic and the Paralympic Games. You're reassured to watch the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Reassured to watch the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in Beijing from your hotel room, maybe? I've yet to see many of these obstacle-free facilities that the government is sparing "no efforts" to reconstruct. My guess is that they'll bring in some accessible buses for the games, but probably won't use them much after. They'll also probably attempt a publicity stunt like at this year's Paralympics in Kunming, where all taxis were made free for the disabled. While it sounds very nice, that's only because there was no other accessible means of transportation for them, so to save face, they came up with this.

In creating a "New Beijing" there was a real opportunity to make this city an accessible one and to help those with disabilities be able to play a greater role in society, unfortunately in the rush to make this city "modern," they've pretty much forgotten they have a responsibility to all citizens.

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