Thursday, May 29, 2008

Disability Dust-Up in Beijing

Well, well, well.

A day or two ago, London’s Times reported that official, but curious, Chinese attitudes towards people with disabilities have surfaced in the run-up to this summer’s Olympics, and, perhaps more unfortunately, for the World Paralympics also scheduled for Beijing in September.

It turns out that the official Olympic guide for both events, “Skills for helping the disabled,” distributed to 100,000 Chinese volunteers, contains a curious mix of plain old prejudice and plain old ignorance.

Let’s take the prejudice first. The Times reported that the Guide notes that:

"Some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective. They can be stubborn and controlling; they may be sensitive and struggle with trust issues. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially if called “crippled” or “paralysed” "

People with disabilities are also a “special group” with “unique personalities and ways of thinking.”

Well, where to start? Watch out!! They’re different!! They’re separate from those of us without disabilities!! Be careful!! Caution!! Caution!! Run away!! Run away!!

Great PR message, don’t you think?

Of course, as we all know, those without disabilities are never isolated, unsocial, and introspective, and don’t have, thank goodness, unique personalities and ways of thinking.

Phew! Glad we got that straight.

Other observations are just plain ignorant. How about:

“They show no differences in sensation, reaction, memorisation and thinking mechanism from other people, but they might have unusual personalities because of disfigurement and disability.”

Wrong again. Some people with disabilities do, indeed, have differences from the norm in terms of sensation, memorization, and cognitive skill. Just exactly what an “unusual” personality is, and how you get it because you have a “disfigurement” or a “disability” is beyond me.

But hey, there’s hope!!! The Guide opines this little gem:

“Disabled people can be mentally healthy.”

Nah!! You sure?? Who knew?

All is not lost, however, The Guide also takes a stab at some quasi-accurate statements, such as:

"When you make eye contact, do not fuss or show unusual curiosity. Never stare at their disfigurement. A patronising or condescending attitude will be easily sensed, even for a brain-damaged patient."

Don’t ask me—about the brain-damaged part, I mean.

This in a country with about 83 million people with some form of disability.

To be fair, the report also acknowledges that while the Guide is spectacularly clumsy, the effort to recognize people with disabilities is a major step forward for the Chinese. Also, on the legal front, there's some progress, as reported last month.

OK. They better work hard—they’ve got a very long way to go.

1 comment:

Melissa O in NYC said...

Mark, you are the master of the understatement!! Who knew, indeed!