China's Disabled Slam Government as Biggest Discriminator

2013-05-21
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A disabled man begs on the side of a road in Beijing, Aug. 13, 2012.
AFP

Disabled people from across China have hit out at stringent health check standards they say bar people with many disabilities from getting work as teachers, highlighting rampant employment discrimination by governments around the country, activists said on Tuesday.

The campaigners penned an open letter to the ruling Chinese Communist Party calling for an end to rampant workplace discrimination, citing medical assessments for teachers working in Guangdong province, which it said rule out applicants who are perfectly capable of teaching in a classroom.

New health check standards issued by the Guangdong provincial authorities had removed only mandatory HIV testing from health checks for teachers, while checks for  eyesight, hearing, and musculoskeletal fitness had remained unchanged, according to activist Yang Renliang, who was among the letter's signatories.

Yang, who suffers from albinism, said there were many items on the mandatory recurrent health checks for in-service teachers that would exclude him from finding work.

"These health checks put great psychological pressure on people with disabilities, even if we have no other issues and are perfectly capable of being good teachers," he said.

"This really could mean that we miss out on good opportunities in life," Yang added. "Personally, I am entirely capable of teaching class."

Campaigning for equal rights

Lu Jun, who heads the Beijing-based health advocacy group Aizhixing, said disabled activists had been campaigning for many years against similar practices in many areas of employment.

"Disabled people have been working very hard to achieve their goal of equal rights," Lu said.

"There have been more and more lawsuits brought by people with disabilities in the past two or three years."

Government departments 'leaders' in discrimination

He said activists had put pressure on governments across China through public information requests, open letters, and investigative reports on discrimination.

"The leaders in discriminatory employment practices targeting disabled people are government departments at all levels," Lu said.

He said government guidelines mandating that 1.5 percent of government jobs be filled by people with disabilities had largely been ignored.

"To this date, not a single government agency has managed to achieve this proportion," Lu said.

He said a parliamentary investigation carried out last year had found that government departments across China had employed a total of 92 people with disabilities since 2007.

National Day of Disabled Assistance

The open letter was written to mark China's National Day of Disabled Assistance on Sunday, a public activity day which began in 1991.

It targeted regulations governing the hiring of teachers—who in China are civil servants eligible for a slew of government benefits—in Guangdong as a way of illustrating problems faced around the country.

The letter was addressed to governments in 30 cities and provinces, Yang said, and hit out at the 2013 revised version of the "Guangdong Province Health Check Standards For Applicants for Teaching Status."

The China Disabled Persons' Federation estimates that at least 83 million people in China have some form of disability, and many obstacles remain for people with disabilities wishing to progress to higher education.

Beijing's prestigious Renmin University recently set up a disability law clinic and is working in conjunction with the Harvard Project on Disability to improve access to education, international rights groups say.

Currently, China only boasts a handful of special education institutions, many of which offer limited study options, such as massage training for the blind.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.