Tsinghua University’s facilities for disabled students in the spotlight

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A dialogue between Tsinghua University and a disabled student named Wei Xiang preparing to attend the elite institution in Beijing recently attracted the Chinese public’s attention. In a public letter to the University, Wei Xiang addressed his family situation and asked whether the school could prepare a dorm room for his mother to live with him in order to better take care of him. In their reply, Tsinghua claimed that they will have a dorm room ready for the student and his mother, and that they would further waive his accommodation fee for the entire four years in college. At the end of the letter, Tsinghua encouraged the young man by writing: “although life is hard, please keep up enough hope”.

While the public praised the university’s reply and actions, disabled person and activist Hao Yu wrote a commentary online to say that he didn’t buy the university’s words. Based on his personal experience, Hao Yu stated that disabled people can live totally independently and that the student did not need to lower himself in such a humble way to make his request. On the other hand, he pointed out that the response from Tsinghua did not mention the status of specific access-free facilities on its campus. The real goal of the school, according to Hao Yu, should be allowing disabled students to be integrated into school life without being segregated.

A major point of the activist’s criticism revolves around whether the access-free facilities in Tsinghua are ready for Wei Xiang and other disabled students. Chenshi and his partner Panpan, who need to use wheelchairs to get around, carried out a test in Tsinghua’s campus and the area nearby, the popular student neighbourhood of Wudaokou. Based on their observations, a one-word summary of the results would be “unsatisfactory”. The following issues were found:

  • Some places on campus lack tactile paving systems, while other places only have one tactile sidewalk. Sometimes the paths are occupied by bicycles. There are no tactile sidewalks nor voice guides at junctions.
  • When it comes to the buildings most frequently visited by students, like libraries, academic buildings and dining halls, wheelchair ramps are insufficient and their design is unreasonable, which mean that disabled people with wheelchairs find it very difficult to navigate them alone. The sidewalks are generally too high, and the ramps are insufficient and often occupied by obstacles, leading to a situation where wheelchair users often have to take the pathways used by vehicles.
  • Access-free bathrooms inside the academic buildings are not consistent; some access-free toilets are just ordinary toilet compartments; classrooms do not have compliant access-free sitting areas. There are no voice reminders in elevators about going upwards or downwards. Some doors in the academic buildings are not big enough for wheelchairs to get through.
  • The situation in the nearby Wudaokou subway station is not positive either. The design of the subway station is condemned as “unreasonable”, the number of lift elevators is insufficient, and the height gap between the platform and the subway is big. Most of the time, manual assistance is needed for getting around.

Due to all of the above points, Hao Yu concluded that there is far more work that needs to be done in order to provide an actual disabled-friendly environment in the university and its environs.