Access to higher education is getting easier for people who have disabilities
Ang Ziyu, a blind student from Anhui province, shot to stardom this
summer for getting extra high scores on the notoriously grueling
national college admission test, better known as gaokao, and landing a
spot at a mainstream college in Beijing.
The 19-year-old, who now studies information and computing science at
Minzu University of China, became the latest inspiration for an
estimated 17 million blind or visually-impaired Chinese people, as the
central government has pushed for greater inclusiveness in tertiary
education to the benefit of the nation's 86 million disabled population.
At age 3, Ang caught a retinal disease that eye doctors said would erode and eventually rob him of his sight by age 30.
He struggled through the first half of primary school using textbooks
with extra-large characters and thereafter counted on his hearing as
his sight deteriorated. By the time he finished middle school in 2016,
Ang had become so reliant on parents and teachers to read his textbooks
and test papers for him aloud that he decided to apply for a spot at a
blind high school in Qingdao, Shandong province.
The decision to leave the mainstream education system was largely
because the school of his choice was among the few blind institutions in
China that offer the same academic lessons found in mainstream
academies, in addition to programs designed for promoting Braille
literacy. But Ang soon found that the academic training there was far
less intense than at mainstream counterparts.
He feared his education there would chip away at his already slim
chance to outperform millions of able-bodied competitors in the gaokao. A
poor mark on the test meant he would end up in a special college that
offers massage, music and other stereotypical majors for blind students.
After grasping the basics of Braille, Ang secured a position at a
mainstream school in Hefei, capital of his home province, in 2017.From
there, he attended marathon-like cramming sessions with able-bodied
students, took the gaokao twice using Braille test papers and received
635 points on the 2020 exam, which is 120 points higher than the local
admission line for key colleges.
With his dream fulfilled, the freshman shared an upbeat message:
"Mainstream college is a miniature society, and enrolling at Minzu
University of China will help prepare me for greater social involvement.
… I will work hard academically and live an independent life to get
fully prepared for society."
The gaokao－which tests students' knowledge of Chinese language and
literature, mathematics, a foreign language and a barrage of other
subjects of their choice－is one of the most closely watched annual
events in China for its prominent role in maintaining social mobility
and equal opportunities.
Ang's ascension to his dream college through the gaokao is an example of the growing inclusiveness of mainstream colleges.
Figures from the China Disabled Persons' Federation, which oversees
disability policymaking, showed 12,362 such applicants were admitted to
college through the gaokao last year, compared with 4,335 in 2005.
The progress is concurrent with a three-year program, which ended
last year, that designated six universities, mostly mainstream ones, as
front-runners in the recruitment of disabled students in hopes of
gaining experience that other colleges could emulate.
During that period, China also standardized sign language and Braille
in an attempt to bridge regional differences and to facilitate college
China officially banned discrimination against disabled students in
the gaokao and college admissions in 1990 when it passed the landmark
Disabled Persons Protection Law. It was reiterated in multiple rules
that followed, including one in 2013 asking colleges to prioritize
disabled students when multiple applicants hold the same scores.
In a major step forward, China unveiled a regulation in 2014 that
required exam authorities to offer "reasonable conveniences" to disabled
test-takers, including a 50 percent test time extension, Braille papers
and exemptions from the English listening comprehension test for the
Cheng Kai, vice-chairman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation,
said progress on that front has accelerated since 2012 as China ramped
up efforts to build a "moderately prosperous society in all aspects"
before 2021, which requires zero domestic poverty and improved welfare
among the disabled and other vulnerable groups.
"More and more students are enrolled at mainstream colleges and are
realizing their dreams," he said at a news conference on Tuesday with
five disabled freshman studying in Beijing.
Zhang Yuexin, deputy head of the Institute of Special Education at
Beijing Normal University, said the progress is also reflective of
growing social acceptance for disabled students at colleges. who were
barred from such institutions in the early 1980s.
"Colleges should set up assistance centers to help with integrated
education so that disabled students can pursue their academic goals
without too many worries," she said.