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Promotion of sports beneficial to people with disabilities
update:March 14,2022
A wheelchair-bound passenger uses accessibility equipment at a subway station in Beijing on March 1, 2022. [Photo for CHINA DAILY]
From promoting social awareness to building more accessible infrastructure, the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games have facilitated the development of projects that will help people with disabilities live more fulfilling lives, said Zhang Haidi, chairperson of the China Disabled Persons' Federation.
During a meeting on March 6 with national political advisers on agriculture, welfare and social security, during the annual two sessions, President Xi Jinping said that when it comes to the people's well-being, no matter is trivial. He added that it is important to pay extra attention to and care for people living in difficult circumstances and to help them solve their problems.
Zhang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, told China Daily that the Winter Paralympics have encouraged more people with disabilities to engage in sports, and that this makes them healthier, happier and more included in society.
When China was preparing to bid for the 2022 Winter Games, it had fewer than 50 trained athletes for the Paralympics, she said. Now the roster has grown to over 1,000, covering all six sports from Para Snowboard to Para Alpine Skiing.
"I remember back in 1984, when our athletes competed in the Paralympic Games for the first time, there were no training facilities for them. Some of them could only practice swimming in the rivers in their hometowns, or practice table tennis on a table made of bricks," Zhang said.
Now, there are 45 training centers for para athletes across China, and a dedicated administrative center for managing para sports, she said. With these state-of-the-art track and field, basketball, swimming and winter sports training facilities, Chinese para athletes can perform well consistently in international events.
Zhang said that she often visited para athletes training for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, and it was not hard to feel proud and be moved by their efforts.
Some of the winter sports require these athletes to train in low temperatures for hours. "It is an extremely demanding task because of their disabilities. Some of them had lost their arms, legs or eyesight, but they all have a burning desire to achieve sports excellence and show their strength of spirit," she said.
Apart from athletes in the spotlight, there are also many "unsung heroes" behind the scenes, such as coaches and staff members, she said.
Scientists and engineers have built an accessible environment with meticulous attention to details, from designing service counters at the proper height to broadcasting information using sign language supported by artificial intelligence.
"All these designs are meant to serve the para athletes, and I hope these athletes from around the world will feel cozy, comfortable and loved in Beijing, just like being at home," Zhang said.
Today, para sports have become an integral part of work for the disabled in China, she said. "Athletes with disabilities are overcoming the obstacles and are bravely forging new lives. It's a spirit that tells us no obstacle is insurmountable, and the key to success is determination."
Zhang Haidi (right), president of the China Disabled Persons' Federation [Photo/Xinhua]
Social respect
Zhang said she still gets emotional when reminiscing on how far Chinese society has come in treating people with disabilities.
In 1984, when she attended the founding ceremony of the China Welfare Foundation for Disabled Persons, the predecessor to the China Foundation for Disabled Persons, her eyes filled with tears when she saw the word canjiren (people with disabilities) in the title.
"Until then, people with disabilities had been called canfeiren, which literally means 'disabled and useless people'," she said. "It was such a small change, but it reflected society's renewed attitudes and respect for people with disabilities."
The key reason for this change in society is the long-term support of the Chinese government to people with disabilities, Zhang said.
In recent years, social security measures such as allowances for people in financial difficulty and nursing care subsidies for people with severe disabilities have benefited over 26 million people, with over 7.1 million registered impoverished disabled people being lifted out of absolute poverty.
"Some with disabilities not only see their own lives improve, but also take on the role of helping their neighbors and villagers to live better lives," Zhang said. Thirty-one such people were awarded by the CPC Central Committee and State Council for their contributions to fighting poverty.
"The goal of our work is to provide more opportunities for people with disabilities and to build a foundation for them to be included in society," she said. This includes providing more rehabilitation, education and employment opportunities.
Helping severely disabled people is often the most difficult task because their families may have to quit school or a job to take care of them. This places enormous pressure on themselves and their family members, she said.
Governments at various levels are proactively finding ways to help such people. One example can be found in Zhumadian, Henan province, where the local government has established over 100 care facilities to help more than 2,000 disabled people.
Special education teacher Liu Lingli demonstrates to a student how to pronounce a word in Hengyang, Hunan province, on June 23, 2021. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Better future
Last year, the State Council published a five-year plan-from 2021 to 2025-to promote the interests and development of people with disabilities, with the main focus on improving public and cultural services and creating an inclusive social environment for such people to thrive.
Some of the biggest issues they face lie in employment and career progression, access to rehabilitation services, and lack of rehabilitation professionals, Zhang said.
This year, the China Disabled Persons' Federation will launch a three-year program to support people with disabilities in finding jobs or starting their own businesses. It is also building a national-level university of rehabilitation sciences in Qingdao, Shandong province, as an incubator for top rehabilitation professionals.
By hosting the Paralympic Winter Games and with continuous support for people with disabilities, she said, our society will learn more about the Paralympic virtues-courage, determination, inspiration and equality.
"We hope the general public will respect and care more about people with disabilities, which is conducive to building a friendly and inclusive social environment and promoting social progress."

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