China’s education ministry has announced that disabled people, and blind people in particular, will be allowed to take university entrance exams.
According to Te-Ping Chen, a reporter for China Real Time, even if the disabled take the entrance exam and pass, it may be difficult for them to find schools that are equipped to meet their particular needs. Huang Rui, a wheelchair-bound attorney in Henan, says that taking the entrance exams is just one very small step toward success for the disabled.
“Now, at least, if they do want to take the test, they know the Ministry of Education at least won’t present them with this kind of barrier,” Rui said.
China has long been a country in which the disabled were looked upon as “objects of charity”. The disabled, approximately 6.5% of the population, have been diverted into special schools and encouraged to take on professions which the state approved for them, such as massage and music. The disabled have been relegated to a level below the poverty line, making it difficult for them to gain any sort of political traction or the ability to represent themselves to the country’s media, advocacy groups or most forms of international aid.
In July 2013, Human Rights Watch published a 75-page report detailing the numerous educational barriers faced by children and young people with disabilities in China, including the failure by the government to provide appropriate classroom accommodations to help them overcome barriers to school. Human Rights Watch urged the Chinese government to move towards an inclusive education system in which schooling is fully accessible to children with disabilities.
Mainland disability rights advocates have welcomed the education ministry’s directive, calling it a victory over the government’s resistance to fulfill the right to education for people with disabilities.
Human Rights Watch, an independent, international organization working for the human rights of all, said that providing Braille and electronic test-taking options for the blind will increase their access to higher education. It will be the beginning of the effort to “maximize respect … and minimize discrimination” toward the disabled of the country, says the China Director of Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson.
Richardson also stated that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by the United Nations in 2008, included clear directives to “ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access general tertiary education … without discrimination and on an equal basis with others. To this end, [governments] shall ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to persons with disabilities.”
China has a long way to go toward ending discrimination and exclusion of its disabled citizens. If the implementation of of these new options for the disabled begin to be actualized in China, this would mean that China has taken another important step toward inclusiveness.