First visually impaired NPC deputy's journey highlights progress in human rights protection for people with disabilities in the new era
Published: Mar 19, 2024 10:20 PM
Editor's Note: 

China's human rights stories are unfolding in a new era of comprehensive deepening reform and historic changes. It is a great practice of China's poverty alleviation and whole-process people's democracy, a thorough reformation in judicial, medical insurance and other key sectors related to the national economy and people's livelihood, as well as a combination of numerous impressive and inspiring individual stories.

To be nurtured in youth, be educated, secure gainful employment, receive medical care when ill, be cared for in old age, have a place to live, and be supported when weak... these are concrete embodiment of human rights, which explains that the greatest human right is the right to the happiness of the people. 

For a long time, some politicians and media outlets in a few countries have been hostile and prejudiced against China, leading to a lack of understanding among foreign audiences about the concepts and achievements in China's human rights development. But what is revealed in the daily lives of the Chinese people speaks to the most basic truth: Rights to survival and development are fundamental human rights. 

The Global Times is launching a series of articles, telling the vivid stories about human rights protection in the new era. We expect this series to become a window through which more foreign readers will understand how Chinese people recognize human rights and what efforts they have made to fight for and fully enjoy human rights in their daily lives.

People with disabilities and volunteers roam together in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang, on April 3, 2023. Photos: VCG

People with disabilities and volunteers roam together in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang, on April 3, 2023. Photos: VCG

Wang Yongcheng, the first and only visually impaired deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), returns home with a sacred mission.

Back to East China's Fujian Province from Beijing, Wang has constantly been on the move. Having visited the Fuzhou School for the Blind, and Fujian Disabled Persons' Federation, he is dedicated to spreading the spirit of the two sessions with no signs of fatigue. 

"This is my job. The staff representatives of the disabled persons' federation, the teachers and students at the school for the blind, volunteers, and caring individuals are all eager to learn about the grand occasion of the 'two sessions' through me. Every time I speak, I receive enthusiastic responses," Wang told the Global Times.

During the two sessions, the introduction of a Braille version of the Government Work Report, a concentrated interview in the "Deputies' Passage," and a 6-minute deliberation speech, are all new experiences that impressed and inspired Wang for his rest of life.  

Wang said that he always remembers that as early as 1990, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was then secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Fuzhou Municipal Committee, said that the disability cause is a spring cause.

From being the first visually impaired NPC deputy to receiving the first Braille version of a reply to a deputy's motion and the Government Work Report, Wang has vividly witnessed the subtle and considerate changes at the two sessions, which he calls the "springtime grand event." 

By witnessing the happiness embraced by the group he represents, Wang perceives the country's tangible democracy. 

Wang's story of fulfilling his duties is a microcosm of the protection of the disabled in China. In recent years, from constructing a barrier-free environment to fostering a more respectful attitude toward disadvantaged groups in the public, more disabled persons in the country are now participating in and integrating into society on an equal footing, allowing them to share in the fruits of social development.

Sensing democracy's pulse

On March 5, at the opening meeting of the second session of the 14th NPC, Wang was handed a special government work report - white 8K paper, circular binding, and orderly arranged with convex and concave Braille. This groundbreaking Braille version of the government work report made its debut at two sessions, courtesy of the newly established Braille translation team under the secretariat of the NPC.

"For me, this is democracy that I can literally feel," Wang said. With the Braille version of the Government Work Report in hand, he was able to silently follow along as the Chinese premier delivered the report. "I could run my fingertips over every accomplishment our country has achieved. It was an unparalleled experience."

Following his election as a deputy to the 14th NPC, who commenced their five-year term in 2023, Wang attended his first session of the NPC last year. Since then, his room has been equipped with a laptop adapted for visually impaired people. The venue has also been made accessible to ensure his smooth participation in the conference. 

"This year, I was provided with Braille documents and even had the opportunity to speak at the 'Deputies' Passage," Wang shared. "I made a promise to myself to bring the voices of visually impaired people to the NPC. We may not be able to see, but we want to be seen by more people."

Born in Ninghua county of Fujian Province in 1967, Wang lost his sight in an accident at the age of 18. Undeterred, he embarked on a challenging entrepreneurial journey by learning massage skills and conducting non-profit training. His efforts helped over 6,000 visually impaired individuals to become self-reliant.

From casting his vote in the majestic Great Hall of the People to proposing to provide large-print textbooks for low-vision students enrolled in regular schools, in 2023, Wang, as an NPC deputy, has had some touching moments. 

Wang Yongcheng (right) delivers a speech during the second session of the 14th National People's Congress in Beijing on March 8. Photos: VCG

Wang Yongcheng (right) delivers a speech during the second session of the 14th National People's Congress in Beijing on March 8. Photos: VCG

His proposal was adopted and incorporated into China's first dedicated law on constructing a barrier-free environment, which took effect on September 1, 2023.

And in a historic moment in November 2023, Wang received the first-ever braille response to an NPC deputy's motion. The Ministry of Education also embraced this proposal and supported the promotion of large-print textbook publications, starting with the first grade in autumn 2023.

On March 5, Wang delivered a 6-minute speech at the meeting of the Fujian delegation. He put forth two suggestions on facilitating the building of an elderly care service system which could better meet the special needs of people with disabilities, and promote the integrated development of the cause of the disabled on both sides of the Taiwan Straits. 

"I am honored to have witnessed the country's increasing efforts to improve barrier-free environment construction, help people living with disabilities integrate into society, and share the fruits of economic and social development," Wang said.

Legal protection

Apart from Wang, Li Qingzhong, a national political advisor living with severe visual impairment, also drew widespread attention during the two sessions this year.

Tactile stick in hand, Li spoke to the media at an inclusive interview at the Great Hall of the People on March 4, the first day of the two sessions. He shared that he is able to commute by subway alone and travel by plane or high-speed rail, and he deals with his work online with the help of screen reader software.

"Thanks to China's continuous optimization of a barrier-free environment, and the progress of modern technology, physically disabled people can integrate into society, and work hard in all walks of life," Li said. Also President of the China Association of Persons with Visual Disabilities, Li prepared five proposals for this year's two sessions. Of them, one focused on the promotion of preschool education for the multiplicity of visually impaired children. 

Wang and Li's stories let the public once again closely see the aspirations of China's 85-million-strong people living with disability, as well as the many forms of assistance and care extended by the country and society to them.

China attaches great importance to the protection of the rights and interests of persons living with disabilities, said Chen Bin, an associate research fellow at the Institute for Human Rights, East China University of Political Science and Law. 

"It not effectively protects their rights to subsistence and development, but also creates convenient conditions for them to perform their duties as the country's legislators and political advisors, guaranteeing their right to participate in national and social affairs," Chen told the Global Times.

Visually impaired persons receive newly graduated guide dogs in Beijing on December 3, 2023. Photos: VCG

Visually impaired persons receive newly graduated guide dogs in Beijing on December 3, 2023. Photos: VCG

Chen said that for decades, China has always been committed to protecting the rights of persons living with disabilities from a legal standpoint. The Barrier-free Environment Creation Law, for instance, took effect in September 2023, becoming another law to safeguard the human rights of people living with disabilities. Before that, there had been many related laws and regulations such as the Law on the Protection of Disabled and Regulations on Education for Individuals with Disabilities.

The principle of accessibility is one of the essentials of international human rights law, and constitutes the basic principle of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons living with Disabilities, Chen said. The Convention was eventually adopted by the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in December 2006 after a long motion discussion.

"As a responsible major country, China is not only an active advocate, but also a firm supporter and implementer of the Convention," Chen told the Global Times. He added that in March 2007, when the Convention opened for signing, then permanent representative of China to the UN Wang Guangya signed it for the first time on behalf of China.

Looking back, there is a clear timeline showing how China has gradually fine-tuned  laws and regulations to guarantee the well-being and visible human rights of its people living with disabilities, Chen said. 

"Every law and regulation carries specific human dignity," he noted.

A decent, dignified life

Apart from protecting the human rights of persons living with disabilities from the legal perspective, China has also strived to improve services through almost every detail of life.

From the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and transportation, to education, employment, recreation, and social identification, it spares no effort in facilitating decent and dignified lives for this population. 

"We were married voluntarily…" Last week, with the help of Braille and large-print versions of marriage registration notices and marriage vows, a couple with visual impairments said their vows and registered their marriage in Beijing. It was the first time in the country that a marriage registry offered such documents to a visually disabled couple.

As for sporting events, the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games served as a window to show the world China's technological progress, particularly in caring for those living with disability. It used an energy-efficient printing technology for the Braille version of the manual for athletes and officials, spectators' guide, venue introduction, and maps, reportedly the largest use of Braille in the history of the Winter Olympics.

This green printing technology for Braille is energy-efficient and low-cost, and allows Braille to be printed on more materials, including paper, glass, stainless steel, and pottery, said Song Yanlin, a scientist from the Institute of Chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, whose team developed this technology.

The green printing technology was already in widespread use across China before the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics, Song told the Global Times. At the Beijing School for the Blind, children started to use Braille books printed with this technology as early as 2018. In Shanghai, the city metro operators also offered passengers with visual disability direction information printed in this green technology.

People with disabilities play basketball in Yantai city, Shandong, on May 14, 2021. Photos: VCG

People with disabilities play basketball in Yantai city, Shandong, on May 14, 2021. Photos: VCG

The Chinese film industry is also trying to offer visually disabled people better a "viewing experience," by specially transforming the movies into accessible versions with comprehensive audio descriptions for visually impaired audiences. The narrators' voices, which transform action on screen into vivid descriptions, have allowed this special group to access China's various film and television products.

Li Wenwen, CEO of Shanghai PMF Pictures, said the company has made accessible versions for all its productions for visually impaired audiences. "Although it increases production costs, it is worthwhile as it is something meaningful to do," Li told the Global Times in a previous interview.

Moreover, inIn the social atmosphere that advocates caring for those living with disability, some stigmatizing words used to describe persons with disabilities have been eliminated. In 2022, China's Disabled Persons Federation issued a notice that advised media outlets to use updated terms in stories about people living with disability. Some persons with disabilities told the Global Times that, now they rarely see or hear offensive words whether in media coverage or in daily life.

China's efforts in affording its people with disabilities respect, love, and care are obvious to all. These efforts embody the people-oriented and inclusive nature of the development of human rights in China in the new era, which has effectively made Chinese people the main participants, promoters, and beneficiaries of the development of human rights causes, Chen told the Global Times.

On March 9, Wang received a heartfelt letter from Deng Zhiqiang, an individual living with disability from Central China's Hunan Province.  

"I am standing by your side, rooting for your success. Your achievements are our patriotic motivation," Deng wrote in the letter.

"We will walk hand in hand with our nation on the path toward advancing the rights of the disabled community. Together, we will continue to contribute to the story of springtime filled with progress and hope with unwavering determination," Wang said.