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  • Project ASHA

Disability - a mind thing

The United Nations Enable, Accessibility for the Disabled - A Design Manual for a Barrier Free Environment aptly states that We are all physically disabled at some time in our lives. A child, a person with a broken leg, a parent with a pram, an elderly person, etc. are all disabled in one way or another. Those who remain healthy and able-bodied all their lives are few. As far as the built-up environment is concerned, it is important that it should be barrier-free and adapted to fulfill the needs of all people equally. As a matter of fact, the needs of the disabled coincide with the needs of the majority, and all people are at ease with them. As such, planning for the majority implies planning for people with varying abilities and disabilities.

Disability is often less about the challenges and more about, our individual attitudes towards persons with disabilities (PWDs), how accessible the built up environment is and what reasonable adjustments employers and house owners are willing to undertake towards ensuring that differently abled persons have equal access to opportunities and facilities.

In Rural China for example, two men – one blind, another a double amputee are determined to make a difference in their environment by honing their strengths and making up for their weaknesses.

These life long friends went to school together as children in the small village of Yeli in north-eastern China. Wenqi says they have always been like brothers.

Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi walk to work – an eight hectare plot of land the local government leased them carrying a hammer and a metal rod.

For the last 13 years, their objective has been the same - planting as many trees as possible in the area, to prevent their village from flooding and improve the environmental surroundings.

To get to their plot, Wenqi, 53, the younger of the two and a double arm amputee, leads the way through a forest, guiding 54 years old Haixia, his blind friend, who holds his empty jacket sleeve. When they reach the river, he gets on Wenqi's back in order to cross the fast-moving water without falling.

"I am his hands, he is my eyes," says Haixia. "We are good partners."

Adjusting to a disability is not very easy, however, with adequate support, this process can be ameliorated.

Wenqi says the village officials looked after him as a child and when he reached seven they asked his parents to send him to school. He graduated in 1976, thereafter, officials organised work for him with the local forestry team. Here he looked after the fruit gardens and watered trees, building up experience of growing plants outdoors.

Haixia believes fate brought them together again in 2000, so they could help each other to prosper, allowing them to fulfil work they couldn't do alone.

Although they are passionate about the environmental benefits of what they do, they also know that their disabilities limit the opportunities they have for employment, this led them to make something out of their lives that is not only rewarding, but equally able to support them financially.

Haixia says. "I'm disabled and don't want to be a burden on my family, so I plant trees. After ten years the trees will grow and I will get money."

Read the original story on BBC News.





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