A special afternoon tea party was recently held in the International Financial Centre in Guangzhou, attracting many passersby. While a normal tea party may be made complete by over-baked bread and desserts, the specialness of this tea party was embodied by the bakers, the waiters and waitresses, and the musicians who were there to create vibrant rhythm and much joy. All of the staff involved in the party were people with intellectual disabilities, but this did not affect the quality of the goods or music they produced. The customers marvelled at the food and the service provided after they learnt that the staffers were disabled, and they did not hold back their amazement and words of encouragement.
The event was co-organised by several organisations in Guangdong Province, including Swire Coca Cola (Guangdong), Guangzhou Zhen’ai Education and Technology, CSR World, the Guangzhou Huiling Service for the Disabled, Maizi Bakery and the Guangzhou Likang Centre for Social Work, and it was supported by the International Financial Centre in Guangzhou. “People with intellectual disabilities think differently from ordinary people, and they have a special way of looking at the world… as a part of society, they are also able to become great contributors”, says the founder of the Zhen’ai Education and Technology company.
Recently there have been many such activities designed to help disabled people looking for employment in China. Through trainings and the funding made available, people with disabilities have become bakers, artisans, waiters, and artists, and some of them have also helped fellow disabled people to find jobs. With more than 80 million men and women with disabilities across the country, activities like these are encouraging, although there is still a long way to go. While the majority of the activities mentioned above are organised by individuals or the private sector, the supportive efforts taken by the government in terms of laws, regulations and opportunities for collaborating with international organisations should not be ignored either. As a country deeply rooted in Confucian philosophy, many see a top-down policy as a factual and effective way to provide a framework for social change and to change the citizens’ mentality.
Since the new administration came to office in 2012, the government has accelerated the process of improving the overall situation of disabled people in the workplace, in schools, in the households and in public spaces. Based on the laws and regulations published before the turn of the century, several new laws, regulations and programmes have been passed to put more focus on the disabled population. Cooperation with international organisations, such as the ILO, UNDP, UNICEF and UNESCO has also been arranged, and these institutions work together to achieve the goals of further mainstreaming the rights and lawful entitlements of people with disabilities into policies and activities of key government agencies.
These laws, regulations and projects have set up a solid legal framework to ensure that disabled groups are given sufficient attention. Regarding employment and economic activities, tax benefits have been introduced by the government for companies who are willing to hire people with disabilities. This action has been helpful to affect change with regards to the fact that approximately 75% of disabled people live in rural areas and poverty is a devastating reality for them. It has offered people with disabilities the opportunity to contribute to the society they are living in as well as raising their confidence and self-esteem.
Social perceptions of disabled people are a great barrier to their acceptance. While the term “canfei” (残废, meaning crippled and useless) was used initially, alongside the state’s efforts to address the needs of the disadvantaged, nowadays the words “canji” (残疾, meaning deformed) or “canzhang” (残障, meaning incomplete or obstructed) are used more often. The change of language reflects social acceptance, which opens the door for disabled people to gain equal rights, treatment and entitlements.
Disabled people make up 6.3% of the total population in China, so it is a group that should hardly be neglected. Giving all aspects of policy and legislation a disability perspective has become part of the national development plans, and is among the factors to reduce poverty and increase social and economic inclusion.