China Development Brief, No. 52 (Winter 2011)
Li Simin highlights a social issue that has received growing attention in China.
As with other social issues such as education, poverty, and gender, the trend in China’s NGO community has been to see the disadvantaged less as victims and more as social equals who only need a more nurturing environment in order to fulfill their potential.
On December 2, Save the Children (救助儿童会) held a screening at the China Braille Library (中国盲文图书馆), launching, “We Are Different, but We Are All the Same,” a series of public interest documentaries that feature disabled children as the main protagonists. By recording the lifestyle, work, and study experiences of disabled children, the initiative aims to spread the concept of “different bodies, similar hearts.” It calls for the development of a world that does not discriminate against the disabled.
As an international NGO with deep concerns for children’s well-being, Save the Children has always paid close attention to disadvantaged children, including those with disabilities. This year, on the eve of the “International Day of Persons with Disabilities” (国际残疾人日), Save the Children invited a professional photography team to visit a number of self-help groups for disabled children in Beijing, Chengdu, Hefei and Fuyang. The team was encouraged to explore the lives and work of five disabled children, documenting their stories and experiences through the lens of a camera. This is how “We Are Different, but We Are All the Same” was made.
Of the five protagonists, some, known as “porcelain dolls,” have cerebral palsy or brittle bone disease; others are intellectually or visually impaired. Despite their physical disabilities and the fact that they face difficulties and obstacles that non-disabled people can hardly imagine, these young people still express a love for life, striving to achieve their dreams just like any other young people.
As one of the organizers of “We Are Different, but We Are All the Same,” Save the Children also seeks to address the current societal obstacles facing people with disabilities. The organization interviewed government officials and expert scholars in order to explore the social, legal, and cultural factors which give rise to these obstacles. They aim to more effectively spread the idea of equal rights for the disabled, and to promote social tolerance and acceptance, which reflects the theme of this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities – “Together for a better world for all: Including persons with disabilities in development.”
“Disability is not a tragedy, but it is an inconvenience. We just have to create a barrier-free environment, to help people overcome the inconveniences brought by disabilities, and we will find that they also can accomplish many things, achieve their goals, and fully and equally integrate into civil society.” During an interview for this documentary, the Executive Vice-President of China’s Association of the Blind (中国盲人协会), Weihong Li said that, in the past, people considered the disabled to be “cripples,” a burden for families and an object of constant care and rescue. As society advanced, people gradually formed a new concept of disability, centered on equality, participation, and sharing. Li believes that disabled people, through their own efforts and with some help from the community, can participate equally in society, to an equal extent as the non-disabled.
At present, China has more than 80 million disabled people, meaning that one in every five families contains a person with disabilities. Yao Han, one of the protagonists of the documentary, from 1+1 Voice Studio of Beijing (北京1+1声音工作室), is one such person. The 23-year-old Han is visually impaired; she is often upset by the strange looks she receives from people around her. “When I was little, I was always performing and acting,” Han said, “but everyone looked at me like I was a monster.” Through her own efforts, Han has been able to realize her dream of completing her college education, and she currently teaches shorthand writing and has a family of her own.
The screening also included a panel discussion, in which the creative staff and several of the film’s protagonists shared their experiences from the filming process. Xingxing Wang, a film crew member and Save the Children’s “Developing Disabled Children and Youth” project coordinator, said that the original purpose of this documentary was to show the active and optimistic side of people with disabilities in order to break down social prejudices.
Prior to the screening, Save the Children used an official microblog, to recall some of the themes of “International Day of Persons with Disabilities,” over the past decade, and to demonstrate the efforts that Save the Children and its partners has put into fostering integration and eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities in recent years. The organization invited about ten microbloggers to watch the documentary.