I was alerted by the China Hearsay to a story titled “Disabled groups outraged by Beijing snub,” at the Times. It reported the indignation expressed by some to an official guide for volunteers at the Beijing Olympic Games in August and the Paralympics in September.
“I’m stunned,” said Simone Aspis, a parliamentary campaigner at the UK Disabled People’s Council. “It’s not just the language but the perception that in 2008 we are considered a race apart. ”
So what is it in that guide that caused such negative reactions? One example offered in the news report is the following abbreviated quote lifted from the guide:
“Some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective. They can be stubborn and controlling . . . defensive and have a strong sense of inferiority.”
[EDITED TO ADD A NOTE] I probably should have noted that the “…” in the quote above spans fully three pages in the guide and the separated parts are placed in completely different sections. Yet, the next quote listed in the report follows almost right after the “They can be stubborn and controlling” part.
Hmm, I must admit such writing, as reported, sounds inartful. (As an aside, I am a bit sensitive to inartful language nowadays.) It’s understandable that some may even find it insulting. Nevertheless, is there some contextual information that was lost in the reporting? I decided to read through the guide and see for myself. And the following is the full paragraph containing the offending quote.
Physically disabled people are often mentally healthy. They show no differences in sensation, reaction, memorization and thinking mechanism from other people, but they might have unusual personalities because of disfigurement and disability. For example, some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial, and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. They can be stubborn and controlling; they may be sensitive and struggle with trust issues. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially when they are called “crippled” or “paralyzed”. It is not acceptable for others to hurt their dignity, so volunteers should make extra efforts to assist with due respect.
The guide goes on to suggest a few basic principles
- Build a relationship with a positive and friendly attitude
- Treat them with extra understanding, care and patience
- Master basic communication methods and skills
and rules for assisting the physically disabled:
- [While making eye contact,] do not fuss or show unusual curiosity, and never stare at their disfigurement
- [Avoid] patronizing or condescending attitude [which] will be easily sensed by them
- Do not use [words such as] “cripple” or “lame”, even if you are just joking
- If they can do something independently, be sure to let them [if they desire so, to avoid hurting] their independence and dignity
- Ask for permission before helping
I highly recommend readers to evaluate the full content of this guide to form your own opinions. As for me, my overall impression is that it is a sincere attempt at properly preparing the volunteers to provide the best possible services and experiences to “people with disabilities”. Maybe some of the language choices are inelegant, but the outrage reported in the Times article seems misplaced. Indeed, many of the comments left at the Times are supportive for Beijing in this case.
This phrase “people with disabilities”, by the way, is recommended over “the disabled” by a long Chinese article among the training materials at the Beijing 2008 website. I will provide a full translation if I could squeeze out some time. I found this article while looking for, unsuccessfully, the Chinese version of the guide being discussed in this post because I suspected, similar to the conjecture offered at the China Hearsay, that some of the issues could be due to translations.
I will end this entry with a quote from a commenter’s summary at the China Hearsay:
“Pretty and smooth” advice it may not be. Well-intentioned advice? Unquestionably.
[UPDATE] For a contrasting view, please also check out how The Canberra Times reported on this subject and the way the article was wrapped up, as shown below.
Australian Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes did not condemn the guide. He said it had a positive message. ”The overall message I take from [the guide] is people with disabilities need to be treated with respect and in the same way as anyone else would be treated … I might not necessarily have expressed it the way [the guide] did, but the overall message is right.”
[UPDATE] This is a follow up to a comment from reader Ma Bole, in which he recounted two Chinese women’s stories of being denied admissions to universities due to their physical disabilities. I did a bit of search and found an article from the New York Times dated in May of 2001. It’s titled “College Entrance in China: ‘No’ to the Handicapped“, and provides a fair scoped description of such practices in China. I CRINGE with the realization that it was actually true as late as in 2001. Could some knowledgeable readers inform us if here has been progress made in this particular issue and other ones during the years since. Looking forward, I sincerely hope the compassion and charity so amply and movingly demonstrated throughout China in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake would translate into meaningful improvements in the attitude and treatment of people of disabilities in China as well. Coming back to the subject of this blog post, I am actually optimistic that such a guide would help bring positive changes because it seeds understanding and sensitivity among the thousands of volunteers, who would in turn take the messages to all sectors of the society.