More than a quarter of Chinese children with disabilities don’t get to go to school, while many of those who do are blocked from mainstream institutions or taught by untrained teachers, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Tuesday.
Chinese schools often deny access to students with disabilities unless they prove they can adapt to the schools’ physical and learning environment, according to the report. Accommodations for such students are “little to none.” The report was based on more than 60 interviews with Chinese students with disabilities and their parents.
The interviews revealed various levels of difficulty for parents and students in the Chinese school system. One mother reported coming to school several times during a day to carry her child up and down stairs, because the classroom and bathroom were on different floors. The discrimination leaks into higher education too, where the government set up guidelines to advise universities of the types of “physiological defects” and “illnesses” that make a person “unable to take care of themselves or complete their studies.” One enrollment requirement for a program at Jimei University in the Fujian province said it admitted “Healthy and handsome men over 1.65 meters tall who can speak clearly, have normal liver function, have an uncorrected visual acuity of 5.0 in both eyes, and have no color blindness.”
The Chinese society is deeply competitive, and this perhaps manifests most clearly in its education system. Competition, and the corresponding social stigma towards disabilities, drives many parents to abandon disabled children to China’s underfunded state orphanage system.
China’s Education Ministry issued its own report on the same topic a few days before the HRW report. The government report said 28 percent of Chinese children with disabilities were not enrolled in China’s compulsory nine-year education. But it said the 72 percent enrollment rate represented a jump of nearly 10 percentage points from 2008, and that an increasing number of disabled students were in regular schools with proper accommodations.
Maya Wang, a researcher for the rights group, said the ministry’s report failed to prove it was trying to make mainstream schools more accessible, as it is obligated to do under an international treaty on the rights of disabled people ratified by Beijing in 2008.
Yang Zhanqing, an independent advocate for people with disabilities, said the HRW report is “quite objective” but that the picture would be worse if the research included interviewees from remote, mountainous regions.
In its report, the Education Ministry said both central and local governments have pumped funding into special education. Of all 378,800 students with disabilities in Chinese schools, more than half are in regular schools with necessary accommodations, including home tutoring, the ministry said.
The Human Rights Watch report begged to differ, saying that despite government policies ensuring access for children with disabilities, many of them have in practice been denied admission to mainstream schools or pressured to leave. Often, teachers have received little training to adjust to the needs of children with disabilities, it said.
“No Chinese student with disabilities has his or her rights fully protected,” said Cheng Yuan of the non-governmental agency Ganzhilu, which helps people with disabilities.