A visually impaired passenger takes the subway with the help of a guide dog at a barrier-free station in Beijing last month. （HUANG LIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY）
Barrier-free law brings significant benefits for the blind, visually impaired, among others
More large-font textbooks are to be published and offered to visually impaired students, thanks to national lawmaker Wang Yongcheng, who is blind.
Wang, a deputy to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, traveled to Beijing from Fujian province in March to attend the first session of the 14th NPC, where he suggested the nation strengthen the publication and supply of such textbooks to meet students' needs.
He offered this advice after finding that more students with visual impairments are studying from the same textbooks in schools as those with good eyesight.
On June 28, a law on a barrier-free living environment was adopted by the NPC Standing Committee, which accepted Wang's advice.
Taking effect on Friday, the law makes it clear that China encourages the compilation and publication of textbooks in Braille or in versions for those with poor vision to provide better reading conditions for blind or visually challenged students.
Recalling the suggestion he made in March, Wang, who is vice-chairman of the China Association of the Blind, said, "The font size, colors and artwork in the textbooks currently in use can easily cause visual fatigue, meaning that the sight of visually impaired young people will worsen.
"To help resolve the problem and provide these people with a better platform for their voices to be heard, I submitted the suggestion to the top legislature."
The NPC paid great attention to the suggestion. It asked members of its Standing Committee's Legislative Affairs Commission to visit Wang in May to learn more about his ideas to optimize measures for the visually impaired. They also collected opinions on drawing up a law for a barrier-free living environment.
While providing special rules for children with visionary disabilities, the 72-article law also requires product manufacturers, especially those making food and drugs, to provide instructions in Braille or large fonts to better serve visually impaired and senior residents.
Official data show that by the end of 2021, there were 85 million people in China with disabilities, and 267 million residents who were 60 or older.
Shi Hong, an official from the NPC Standing Committee's Legislative Affairs Commission, said, "We initially formulated the law mainly to provide more convenience for the elderly and the disabled by giving them easier access to daily life.
"But during the formulation process, we took everyone into consideration to ensure they could benefit from the legislation, as we will all become old, or face situations such as becoming pregnant or breaking a limb, in which we need accessible services."
As a result, while many of the articles in the law highlight protection for the elderly and the disabled, everyone is covered by the legislation.
For example, the law requires industrial and information departments to urge enterprises to design and offer internet products and phone apps that are easier to use, and voice and offline services for those in need.
The legislation states that housing and urban-rural development agencies should further optimize the design of houses to prevent residents, especially the elderly and disabled, from slipping into bathrooms and kitchens.
Shi said he hopes that China's first law to focus on constructing a barrier-free living environment will benefit all groups of people.
A grocery market in Fuzhou, Fujian province, has made visits easier for the elderly. LIN SHANCHUAN/XINHUA
The law is aimed at responding to public concerns over constructing accessible facilities, Shi stressed, adding that drafting the legislation received widespread attention from various walks of life.
In addition to the suggestion made by Wang, the NPC deputy, more than 50,000 disabled and elderly residents gave their opinions during formulation of the law, Shi said.
Some people submitted suggestions to the NPC Standing Committee in person, or through its website or postal service, while others shared their ideas through grassroots stations for collecting opinions, Shi added.
In 2015, the commission launched an initiative to help the public submit opinions on legislation directly to the top legislature. These grassroots stations, some of them located in communities and colleges, have since played a significant role in encouraging more people to take part in drawing up legislation for a barrier-free environment, Shi said.
Xie Renci, a 26-year-old amputee, was one of those who gave their opinions. She provided suggestions about the law through such a station in Jianghai district, Jiangmen city, Guangdong province.
Losing a leg when she was 4 due to a traffic accident, Xie received a bachelor's degree in law at Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing in 2019. She is now a doctoral candidate studying disability law at Syracuse University in the United States.
She said she fully understands that some disabled people are reluctant to go out because of a lack of accessible facilities. Some injuries and deaths have resulted from a poor barrier-free environment, Xie added.
"I didn't want to go out when I studied in the hilly city of Chongqing, as it's inconvenient. I spent a lot of time going from my dormitory to a classroom, and there was no elevator in the six-floor teaching building," she said.
"Walking to the classroom took nearly all my strength. If I dragged along a suitcase or carried something, I became even more exhausted. I felt as though I didn't belong at that school and in Chongqing at such times, as those who built the facilities didn't seem to take people like myself into consideration."
Xie said such experiences prompted her to start researching the construction of accessible facilities and to continue studying disability law in the US.
A resident with impaired hearing communicates with a government employee in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. PENG ZHAOZHI/XINHUA
When the draft law on building a barrier-free living environment was disclosed online in November, she received a WeChat message from a former student, saying that Xie had been invited by the Jianghai station to provide advice on legislation after it learned of her experience.
"I was so surprised. Legislators came to listen to my ideas and personal experience, which encouraged me and made me feel valued," Xie said.
After carefully reading the draft, she submitted her ideas to the Jianghai station online, saying that some place definitions, such as "residential building", "residential area", "public buildings", "urban roads" and "rural roads", were not clear enough, which would be confusing for law enforcement departments.
Xie also suggested that the top legislature specify who should pay for renovation work to be carried out at such locations.
Her opinions and suggestions were included in the final version of the law. Expressing her excitement, Xie said she would continue to provide advice on legislation concerning the disabled.
In addition to people in Jianghai, a number of residents offered advice on the law through stations in Tianjin, Shanghai and Shandong province, or contacted the commission via video link.
Shi, from the Legislative Affairs Commission, said, "This broad participation — offline and online — shows that whole-process people's democracy has been implemented in legislation."
He added that the suggestions from various walks of life will not only contribute to law implementation, but also to improving the quality of life for all residents.
Students with impaired vision use a barrier-free entry point to visit a botanical garden in Chongqing. CHU JIAYIN/XINHUA
In Beijing, Liao Juan, an associate professor at Capital Normal University's School of Management, said the law closely addresses the demands and expectations of the elderly and the disabled in terms of system design, establishing standards, and construction requirements.
She said the process of formulating the law is the best example of how the nation's top legislature responds to public needs.
To implement the law and make it work effectively, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said it will give stronger support to technological innovation in constructing accessible services.
The use of new technologies to guide the blind, along with voice control and speech recognition, will be encouraged, the ministry said, adding that it will also require enterprises to "bridge the digital gap" to ensure the elderly and disabled enjoy technological convenience.
The China Disabled Persons' Federation has promised to organize visits to accessible facilities and provide feedback to relevant departments.
The federation also said it will compile and publish more books in Braille and provide versions for those with poor vision.