Thursday, December 9, 2010

China's new Beijing-Shanghai bullet train to be wheelchair accessible

From Xinhuanet:

BEIJING, China -- The new Beijing-Shanghai bullet train has set a good example in China. The high-speed train, which set an operating speed record of 486.1 kilometers per hour in a test run this week, has set aside space for wheelchair users.

We must be aware of the issues surrounding people with disabilities. The issues are only growing larger as the population climbs from 83 million today to a predicted more than 100 million within five years.

For these people, accessibility can mean an education, a job and a community that would otherwise be denied them. Accessibility is a prerequisite if people with disabilities are to enjoy equal opportunities. It's a key to the exercise of their civil, political, social and cultural rights.

The Asian Para Games, which opens on Sunday, will make this invisible group visible. To prepare for the event, Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, improved transportation and shopping mall access for disabled people. The event is important, as it is sure to bring people with disabilities into the spotlight and inspire more and more people.

People with disabilities force us to think outside the box, to acknowledge the multicolored splendor and diversity of human life.

The Chinese government is taking employment as the main means to improve disabled people's lives, as it encourages them to be independent. Thanks to such initiatives the registered unemployment rate of disabled people in urban areas has dropped. Yet for many people with disabilities, the lack of access to essential services remains a source of discrimination and lost opportunities.

Without question, they deserve care and support throughout their lives. This is a human right, and as such should be funded through general revenue. The cost of improving support for disabled people is one that a prosperous and democratic society ought to be able to take on.

It's important to build a truly accessible, caring and inclusive society. The nation needs to make itself more accessible through changes to everything from customer service standards to transportation practices.

We can start with small things like making buses and streetcars more accessible. Also, we should ensure full and fair access to employment opportunities for disabled people.

As computer-based communications and learning become more widespread, the needs of the individuals with disabilities must be taken into account. If they are not, the technological revolution will be lost to many talented people, and their contributions will be lost to the rest of us.