“When I was 5 months old, my parents gave me up,” Chen Yan begins as she sits down to tell her story. “Grandma took me in and was determined to raise me. I suffered from other diseases apart from not being able to see. It’s a miracle that I made it.”
Thirty years on and Chen Yan’s story has turned from one of despair to triumph with the success of a growing piano business and new dreams of helping others like herself. In Beijing where she lives, the city is home to more than 67,000 blind people, but just eight guide dogs. The figures are similar across the country, with around 50 guide dogs for the country’s 17.31 million blind or visually impaired people.
Chen now campaigns to make China more guide-dog friendly and to draw more public awareness to the growing need. Guide dogs were only introduced to China in 2006 and it has been a struggle to get the public to understand the lifeline they give to the visually impaired. “She’s my 24 hour assistant,” Chen explains. “More like a member of my family than just a pet.”
The 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics brought new temporary regulations that allowed guide dogs on public transportation. In August 2012 they were reinstated with a national regulation that saw guide dogs permitted to all public places, a new law that Chen says she has to often explain to officials stopping her from entering with Jenny, her guide dog.
For China’s 85 million disabled people, there have been a lot of changes over the past 30 years, with Chinese leaders calling for greater reform and efforts to make sure that disabled people share the fruits of China’s economic and social development. Chen takes on one fight at a time. “It is not frightening that I cannot see. The scariest thing is to lose faith in yourself. I have always believed that there will be hope as long as you do not give up.”
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