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Breaking barriers in Beijing

india Updated: Sep 05, 2008 23:51 IST
Reshma Patil

Beijing's 134-year-old roast duck restaurant, Quanjude, now has a Braille menu and staff trained in basic sign language to serve China's classic dish. The capital's infamous Silk Street market for counterfeits has added 16 parking slots for disabled shoppers.

The Games are back in Beijing, with a difference. About 30,000 smiling volunteers are out on the streets again, along with a one lakh-strong security force on terror alert.

This time, Beijing's seven-year modernisation will be tested for its disabled-friendly facilities from the Great Wall to the stadiums.

From Saturday, the 13th Paralympics will open in Beijing as 4,000 athletes from 148 nations compete in 20 sports, as varied as wheelchair rugby and sitting volleyball, in the stadiums used for the Olympics.

"We'll have the most number of athletes, sports and countries ever," the International Paralympic Committee president Philip Craven told Reuters.

China has readied its largest delegation since 1984, with 547 members, including 332 athletes. There will be 1,100 anti-doping tests, the Paralympics' highest-ever.

China has 83 million disabled people, including one million in Beijing, who struggle for jobs and face deep-rooted social discrimination.

"We still have a long way to go,'' Paralympics spokesman Wang Wei said on Friday, about Beijing's disabled-friendly facilities.

The run-up to the Games saw an embarrassing withdrawal of an official volunteers training manual for its inappropriate phrases describing the disabled.

But hosting the Paralympics also pushed Beijing into ramping up infrastructure at least at major public facilities.

The international airport has set up $1.7 million-worth of walkways for the disabled, low service desks and telephones, handrails with Braille signs, barrier-free toilets and elevators.