New report explores options for improving disabled access

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China’s Barrier Free Environment Development Report (2021), jointly published by the China Institute of Data Science for the Disabled at Nanjing Normal University of Special Education and the Social Sciences Literature Press on Dec 30, explores new options for building a more accessible society for disabled people – including through new legislation.

The report pointed out that more than 30 years after the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and the China Disabled Persons’ Federation promulgated and implemented China’s first accessible design standards for buildings, China has made significant progress in designing accessible infrastructure.

An accessible environment is a prerequisite for fully guaranteeing the equal participation and equal development rights of all members of society, such as the disabled and the elderly. It provides an important foundation for promoting people’s development and common prosperity to achieve substantive progress, according to the report. During the three decades of working towards developing an accessible society, while China has made considerable progress, there is still a big gap between what’s actually been built and what’s needed, and legislation is one way to systematically promote the construction of accessible facilities.

A total of 1,753 cities and counties had started to integrate barrier-free infrastructure by 2020, and 469 of them had met specified accessibility requirements.

Between 2015 and 2020, China dramatically expanded its construction of accessible cities, counties, villages and towns, with standards continuing to improve, according to the report.

Five departments including the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development awarded 72 national model cities, counties, villages and towns for their accessibility.

The coverage rate of accessible facilities has also been improving, for example, 81.05 percent of entrances and exits, 56.58 percent of service counters, and 38.66 percent of toilets in village and community service facilities nationwide have been constructed or renovated to ensure they are accessible, the report found.

The construction rate of transportation facilities in many provinces has now reached 100 percent, according to the report. More than 3,400 D-series high-speed train are equipped with special seats for disabled people, and public transport vehicles have designated seats for the old, weak, sick and disabled. Low-floor buses and specially-designed taxis have also been promoted to help disabled people move around and fully participate in social life.

The report pointed out that raising public awareness of the concept of accessibility and eliminating misunderstandings are among the most important aspects of designing new legislation. Common misunderstandings around accessibility include the perception that the benefits of investing in accessible buildings and infrastructure are low but the cost is high, with many failing to understand the broader benefits.

China has a vast territory and huge regional differences, and it is difficult to use a single law to specifically guide the construction of an accessible environment across the country. The report pointed out that the legislation should take into consideration the unbalanced pace of development and insufficient accessible facilities in certain regions, so as to avoid hard-to-achieve enforcement caused by excessive legislative requirements.

In recent years, 22 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities such as Shanghai, Hunan, Hainan, and Anhui, and some cities such as Zhangjiakou, Chengdu, and Lanzhou have successively issued local regulations or rules for the construction of accessible facilities.

Some local regulations have been especially innovative. For example, the “Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Barrier-Free City Construction Regulations”, the first city-level barrier-free construction legislation in the country, expands the scope of legislation to include the disabled and the elderly, the injured and sick, pregnant women, children and others in need.

The regulations also involve a city-level accessibility day to raise awareness, as well as the creation of a social supervisor system, and a public interest litigation system for building an accessible city.

The “Measures for the Construction and Management of Barrier-Free Environments in Shanghai” refine the responsibilities of the government and relevant departments, specify requirements for the construction and maintenance of accessible facilities, improve accessible social services, encourage and support social participation, and strengthen supervision and management.