The Paralympics ended last week with another huge fireworks display, the London bus, and great (but less) fanfare. A lot of preparations were made for the Paralympics to guarantee that Beijing, a city that is far from accessible, would be improved. Ramps were put up outside of many large buildings that were previously inaccessible, wheelchair lifts were added to older subway stations on Line 1 and 2, and even new taxis that brought a flavor of London to Beijing streets could be seen riding the roads. The Paralympics Opening Ceremony included the most inspiring and unbelievable athletic display of the past month, more than the Redeem Team, more than Phelps swimming, more than Bolt's running, Hou Bin pulling himself up to the top of the Bird's Nest WHILE IN A WHEELCHAIR was truly amazing.
The torchbearer before Hou Bin was Ping Yali, a visually impaired Beijinger who has been discussed on this blog before. She is one of China's first guide dog users, but has faced a lot of problems in her desire to use the dog in public over the past year. During the Olympics/Paralympics period from July 20-September 20, public regulations allowed guide dogs to go around freely, however now that September 20 has passed, the rules are dropped and the unclear regulations leave her and her guide dog's fate in limbo. The law that is supposed to protect guide dog users is unclear and has regularly been enforced against her, forcing her guide dog to be kept away from the public.
The story of Ping Yali is just one of the many stories about ignored opportunities. Before the Games, Sir Philip Craven, head of the IPC, kept mentioning that it wasn't so much that Beijing had to get ready for the Paralympics, but it was about the lasting impression the Games left on the people of the city. While foreigners (and paying customers) might grumble about the unbelievable number of free tickets distributed to employees of Chinese companies and schools and others may just say that filling the stands was an issue of face, there is a positive to it. Sure, it was shocking to see that the goalball venue was more full during the Paralympics than it was for women's volleyball during the Olympics, though it was entirely full of students decked out in military garb, taking a break from their pre-freshman year military training. This can be seen as a good thing and used as a positive PR move by the government. The government, by encouraging these people to attend, gave able bodied people the chance to see the disabled as more than pitiful individuals, instead as regular people who can achieve great athletic success. Hopefully, it was a positive step in understanding of the disabled in China.
As much as one would like to believe that, the fact that Ping Yali's guide dog is unlikely to see the streets of Beijing again makes one think negatively. Many of the temporary ramps that were put in place have already been taken away. Brand new wheelchairs that were provided to Chinese team members ahead of the Paralympics Opening Ceremonies were going to be taken away from them by the Chinese Disabled Persons Federation, until a last minute decision was reached to allow them to keep the chairs.
China prepared itself for the Paralympics, it made itself ready to impress foreign visitors and to leave a lasting, positive impression in their minds. Now that they are all headed back to their home countries, China has saved face, it appears now things will return to the way they were, unfortunately.