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TX: 20.06.08 - Beijing Olympics

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON

Downloaded from www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.


ROBINSON
One consequence of staging the Olympic and the Paralympic Games in China this year is that Beijingers will almost certainly see more disabled people on their streets than they've ever seen before. On his recent visit to Beijing Peter experienced what it's like to travel in the city now and he got a taste of some of the improvements that are planned for the Games.

TRAIN ANNOUNCEMENT

WHITE
I like the announcements actually, they're very clear cut - when the train stops get off! None of this alighting and disembarking. It's really rather nice.

Well I'm at Dung Sha Ko [phon.] station which is part of the new line 5 part of the underground system here in Beijing and we're on what you might call a fishing trip really - we want to know what the access here is, particularly for wheelchair users, how they get from the top of the station to this level. We haven't seen a lift, we have seen some rather complicated equipment attached to the escalators so we're going to go and ask exactly how it works and how a disabled person would get down here. Stephen Hallett is with me and hopefully he's going to do a bit of translation for me.

HALLETT
Well there's a window here but there's nobody behind it and there's no office, so there's actually nobody around that we can ask.

WHITE
This seems to be the problem Stephen - there was nobody upstairs was there?

HALLETT
There was nobody upstairs and there was no indication of how you might operate the stair lift that they have.

WHITE
Was there not instructions in Mandarin on the bit of equipment itself attached to the escalator?

HALLETT
There was a little control panel with a red button but you needed a key to switch it on. And the top of the station isn't manned. There's actually nobody around at the bottom of the station either because everybody has swipe cards so they don't need to buy tickets.

WHITE
Are we guessing that maybe you need to make prior arrangements - that seems a possibility?

HALLETT
I think so but there's no number to call.

WHITE
Let's go and knock on this door.

HALLETT
I think we should knock on the door and ask them.

KNOCKING ON DOOR

WHITE
If you arrived at the top with a wheelchair - we have a friend with a wheelchair - how would you get down?

OFFICIAL THROUGH STEPHEN HALLETT
It's not operational yet.

WHITE
Oh is it not. When will it be operational?

OFFICIAL
It's actually going through adjustments at the moment.

WHITE
So is there any way that someone in a wheelchair could get down to platform level at the moment?

OFFICIAL
Some of their people here - the staff - would have to carry them down physically in the wheelchair.

WHITE
Right. But the staff will do that will they?

OFFICIAL
Yeah they would do it.

WHITE
Okay. Do we know when it's going to be operational?

OFFICIAL
No they're not sure.

WHITE
Okay. Thank you very much. Okay so I think that seems to be the position - that you could get down but you'd have to have someone with you and you'd have to send somebody down to this ticket hall and get help - is that how you read it Stephen?

HALLETT
I think so. I mean if you were to arrive on your own at the top they'd be a real problem because there would be no way you could communicate with the staff down here.

WHITE
Well let's go and get on the train anyway because I'm down here.

I mean for me, as a blind person, this is pretty good - it's got the roughened surfaces approaching stairs.

HALLETT
I'm partially-sighted and I use the underground regularly here in Beijing and I do find it's very easy, partly there's a lot of space, you know, it's not crowded and it's not hassled.

WHITE
This all looks very familiar, this is like any good subway system really.

So a pretty trouble free trip for me on my favourite form of urban transport. But what about the many thousands of Beijingers with a range of disabilities, not to mention the visitors due to flood the capital in a couple of months time? I decided to spend the morning with just one of Beijing's disabled citizens to see what difference these transport developments would make to him.

JIN YI
My name is Jin Yi [phon.] Jin is my family name, which means in Chinese gold and Yi is strong will because my parents give me the name because I'm physically handicapped. I'm a polio victim actually. I walk on crutches and of course I prefer wheelchair, it's much safer for me.

WHITE
Well if we just stop at this point. I mean could you say a bit more about why you prefer a wheelchair?

JIN YI
In China there are a lot of steps, especially some buildings without elevators or lifts. So I have to walk on crutches. But crutches are not safe for me.

WHITE
So, for example, if you were to go shopping or go around the local shops what's the accessibility as far as they're concerned like?

JIN YI
First of all, a lift is the most important and especially for some big supermarket. Everybody has to go upstairs to buy things so lift is the most important.

WHITE
And how many of the supermarkets and other public buildings have lifts?

JIN YI
Nowadays most of them have.

WHITE
What about tourist attractions - what about if say a wheelchair user wants to go sightseeing?

JIN YI
So it's a really long story and because according to the Chinese old traditions the more majesty you will enjoy the higher the buildings should be, especially you can find that in forbidden city - that's the residence for the empress.

WHITE
I know you don't sightsee in your own city but do you go to these kinds of places?

JIN YI
Yes I like to go there but as a matter of fact I fail because there's so many steps there. I think the most important thing is how to change the concept in people's mind because they don't think they're much useful to them to build such facilities for the handicap because they say there aren't many handicapped people come here.

WHITE
And presumably you say well they won't if they can't get in?

JIN YI
Yeah right. So that's really a question of chicken and egg.

WHITE
Yeah. So what about say somewhere like the Palace Museum - are they making any changes?

JIN YI
Yeah, a lot of changes have taken place. Of course not enough but I think first of all they open the door for the handicapped, so that's the significant thing.

WHITE
Okay, so they've begun to think about it but I mean there are a lot of steps and say someone comes in August/September for the Paralympics or the Olympics are they going to be able to go round if they're in a wheelchair?

JIN YI
Yes I believe so.

WHITE
Well like quite a lot of Beijing it's a bit of a building site around here. But I've come to the CDPF, which is the organisation that represents disabled people. It's quite an imposing place but I've come to try and get some answers for people like Jin Yi and other Beijingers. I'm going in to see Mr Wong, who's also chair of the Paralympic Committee.

WONG THROUGH TRANSLATOR
Although I can't say by the 6th September, the day the Paralympics begin, that we can build a totally accessible Beijing I believe that as long as we continue in that direction the accessibility situation will improve.

WHITE
Can I ask about transport? We've travelled on the subway line, line 5, the new one, very impressive, good for a blind person to use but it does seem that there are not always lifts and stair lifts, sometimes there's a lift and no stair lift, sometimes there's a stair lift and no elevator. And people don't seem to know very clearly where all the facilities are. Could you tell me what is planned for that and whether the information that people have is good enough yet?

WONG
I think you've hit the nail on the head. There are indeed problems with the old metro system as well as with new line 5. The old system, which was the first metro in China, was built decades ago and it's understandably very difficult to alter. I admit there are problems with line 5 as well. For example, the transfer stops are not totally accessible and some walkways also have barriers which are problematic for people with physical and visually disabilities. Recently Mr Dunn [phon.], chairman of the Chinese Disabled Persons Federation, raised the issues of the access problems with line 5 and as a result renovation work is ongoing to get things improved. I'm sure after this work has been done some of the problems will be resolved.

WHITE
Can that be done by September?

WONG
Yes I think so. The problems we can resolve should be completed by September. The design faults are hard to deal with. For example, at the transfer stops disabled people expect that all exits will have lifts but I don't think we can meet this requirement. We can just promise that eventually at every transfer stop there will be a least one lift.

WHITE
But they're not there yet?

WONG
We are still working on it and although there are spaces in place for the lifts they have yet to be installed. But eventually every transfer stop will have a lift.

WHITE
And can I be clear? Would these be lifts from street level down to the station?

WONG
Yes.

WHITE
Jin Yi, what effects do you think the Olympics and the Paralympics is having?

JIN
Quite a lot I think. First of all, people - especially the high ranking officials - will know the need of the handicapped people. We just won't get involved in the mainstream of society, an accessible environment is for the key for us to open the door.

WHITE
Is there a danger though that when the desire to impress the rest of the world is kind of gone that the impetus might be lost - the push might be lost?

JIN
No I think that's the trend, it cannot return to the past days.

WHITE
Jin Yi, thanks very much for helping us today.

JIN
Thank you.

ROBINSON
Jin Yi, ending that report by Peter White and there'll be a disability podcast of his report available on our website later on today. And do listen out for a profile on China's first ever Paralympic Gold Medal winner, that'll be on In Touch in a few weeks time.

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