Thursday, December 19, 2013

Barred from college entrance exams, in blow for China’s blind people

From The NY Times:

Li Jinsheng wanted to study law. But because he is blind, virtually the only profession he could train for in China was massage. So he did that and set up a massage business in Queshan County, Henan Province.

Now 45, Mr. Li never gave up on his dream. On Dec. 10 he applied to take the national college entrance examination, like millions of others, only to be turned down by local education department officials. With the registration deadline having expired on Wednesday his hopes are over for this year, he said on the telephone. “They said they didn’t have examination papers for blind people,” he said.

China’s blind population is deeply frustrated by being shunted off into just two professions — massage and music, as The New York Times reported recently. They have long campaigned to be allowed to take part in the “gaokao,” or regular college entrance examinations, and thereby gain access to mainstream universities.

While the law does not say they cannot take the “gaokao,” in practice applications by the blind are routinely turned down, said the lawyer Huang Rui of the Boyang Law Firm, who is himself disabled. It’s part of what activists say is routine discrimination that is keeping blind people and others with disabilities poorer than their able-bodied counterparts.

“The law doesn’t say blind people can’t take the examination, but they’ve never been willing to let them,” said Mr. Huang, who has “a disability of the limbs,” he said by telephone from Henan.

Reached by telephone, officials in Queshan County’s education department declined to comment.

Around the world, one in 10 people have some form of physical or mental disability, making disabled people the world’s largest minority, according to the United Nations. China says it has 85 million disabled people, or about 6.5 percent of the population. It has both signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which assures them full rights to education.

In China, as elsewhere, disabled people are on average poorer than their able-bodied peers, having a disposable income of around half the national average, according to officials.

Mr. Li knows it may be too late for him to ever study the law at college, but he plans to keep trying to take the entrance examinations in order to highlight the issue, and in the hope that it will work for him one day, too.

“I can’t accept this situation,” he said. “I’m very hurt. It’s hard to be blind, and then to not let me take part in the examinations. I want to sue them.”

Mr. Huang also mentioned the possibility of a lawsuit.

Mr. Li was anxious to emphasize: “If they let me take the examination, I will be really, really grateful to the authorities. Deeply grateful. It will have been really good of them. Please write that.”

And if not? “It’s illegal!” he said.