China has 8 million blind people, but only 200 guide dogs

Yang splits his time between dwelling in Beijing along with his spouse and operating a piano studio in his hometown Tangshan, a sprawling industrial metropolis some 100 miles away.

His weekly journey consists of a high-speed practice experience, two bus rides and three subway transfers by way of often-crowded stations. It would have been not possible for many blind Chinese, but Yang is blessed with a furry companion that guides him each step of the way in which — Dick, a four-year-old Labrador.

That’s one guide canine for each 85,000 Chinese individuals who have partially or absolutely misplaced their eyesight.

In comparability, about one in 50 blind and visually impaired individuals within the United States work with guide dogs. In Britain, over 1,000 guide dogs are educated every year for a complete of 36,000 people who’re registered as blind or partially sighted.

Dangerous streets

Navigating Chinese cities is usually a daunting job for the blind to handle on their very own.

A 2016 survey by the China Information Accessibility Product Alliance discovered that 30% of the nation’s visually impaired seldom depart their properties; only one in 4 usually go outdoors by themselves, with the rest largely shepherded by household and mates.

Before Dick got here alongside, Yang needed to depend on his white cane to get round — but he mentioned it was tough and harmful to cross the multi-lane highways and navigate the quite a few pedestrian overpasses and tunnels that make up the Chinese capital by himself. “I was in constant fear,” he mentioned. “The most terrifying thing is that I have no idea what the road ahead is like.”

Yang Kang and his wife crossing a road with their guide dogs in Beijing, China.

While a lot progress has been made lately, Chinese cities are nonetheless removed from disabled pleasant. Even in Beijing, accessibility is missing in lots of locations — for example, not all pedestrian crossings have audible site visitors alerts for the blind, Yang mentioned.

Even when accessibility amenities are in place, they often fail to serve their objective. Most Chinese cities, for instance, have tactile paving designed to guide the blind lining sidewalks alongside main streets — as required by a legislation handed in 2001. But they’re usually unfriendly or downright harmful to make use of. Some are constructed to zigzag down a road, whereas others lead straight into trees, lamp posts or fire hydrants. Many are continuously occupied by illegally parked cars, bicycles or street vendors.
Some tactile paving designed to guide blind pedestrians in China is built in a way that's unfriendly or dangerous to use.

“The ‘blind paths’ are basically impossible to walk on,” mentioned Yang, who gave up following them years in the past. “They’re not built or maintained with the convenience of blind people in mind.”

CNN’s requested the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development whether or not it’s overseeing how tactile pavings for blind persons are constructed and maintained, but didn’t obtain a response.

The poor repairs of roads, on the whole, usually poses one other hazard — Yang as soon as fell into an uncovered seven-feet deep manhole whereas passing by way of an outdated residential compound. Luckily he didn’t endure severe accidents, and managed to climb out of it.

In China, manhole covers are sometimes stolen to be offered for scrap metallic. According to state media, there have been greater than 70 publicly reported accidents or deaths as a result of stolen or damaged manhole covers between 2017 and 2019. The incidents are so prevalent that China’s Supreme Court introduced stricter punishments in April, subjecting those that take away or injury manhole covers in busy areas to the utmost sentence of the loss of life penalty, when it results in severe harm or deaths.

China’s first guide canine college

Yang first realized about guide dogs in 2008 — when a golden retriever led Ping Yali, {a partially} blind lengthy jumper who gained China’s first Paralympic gold medal, into the opening ceremony to relay the torch for the Beijing Paralympic Games.

After three years of researching and making calls, Yang lastly came upon the place to use for one — a guide canine coaching heart within the northeastern metropolis of Dalian.

Founded in 2016, the China Dalian Guide Dog Training Center China's first such facility.
Founded in 2006, the Dalian China Guide Dog Training Center was the primary of its type in China — but comparable amenities existed internationally for many years. The world’s first guide dog school was established throughout World War I, in Germany, to assist returning troopers who had been blinded on the entrance strains. The US received its first guide canine college in 1929, and the UK in 1940, based on the International Guide Dog Federation.

Wang Jingyu, an animal habits professional at Dalian Medical University, determined to coach China’s personal guide dogs after noticing that, not like their Western counterparts, blind Chinese athletes didn’t have guide dogs to assist them through the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games, mentioned Liang Jia, a workers member on the Dalian heart.

Without any prior data or expertise, Wang researched on-line methods to practice guide dogs and sought assist from worldwide specialists.

When the middle opened in 2006, about 50,000 individuals referred to as from throughout China to use for a guide canine — but Wang only had two to supply. “Our office phone was ringing off the hook,” Wang advised state-run information company Xinhua.

The facility has expanded over time — it now retains 100 in numerous phases of coaching, and greater than 20 graduate every year.

An instructor at China Dalian Guide Dog Training Center trains a Labrador to cross the road.

The puppies — largely Golden Retrievers and Labradors, chosen for his or her mild, pleasant nature — are first despatched to foster households for a yr to study to reside with people, earlier than returning to the middle for an additional yr {of professional} coaching. It is a prolonged and strict course of — alongside the way in which, about 60% of the dogs will likely be disqualified and put up for adoption as pet dogs. The causes for disqualification can embrace exhibiting aggression, having extreme vitality, being overly delicate to stress, and missing the flexibility to remained focus, in addition to affected by automotive illness.

After passing all of the evaluations, a professional guide canine will likely be matched with an proprietor and endure one other 40 days of joint coaching, earlier than it might probably observe the proprietor to its new house.

Limited by funding

Over the previous years, a couple of smaller guide canine coaching facilities have opened in China, but the Dalian heart stays the nation’s largest, and one of many only two acknowledged by the International Guide Dog Federation (IGDF). In common, it is arduous to get the funding to begin or proceed operating a middle. And to be certified by IGDF, a middle must cross a strict analysis course of, which will be tough for these with out ample funding.
The different IGDF-approved college, Yunnan Erxin Dog Guides, opened in Shanghai in 2018. Before that, the Shanghai Disabled Persons’ Federation had been commissioning a police dog training center within the close by metropolis of Nanjing to coach guide dogs for its visually impaired residents.

The lack of funding is a key constraint for China’s guide canine colleges, Liang mentioned. As a nonprofit, the Dalian heart offers guide dogs to candidates free of charge, but every animal prices about 200,000 yuan ($30,353) to coach. In the early years, Wang used his personal financial savings to maintain the middle operating. Then, in 2010, the Dalian authorities began to subsidize the middle with 60,000 yuan ($9,106) for every guide canine it trains. The heart additionally receives donations from the general public, but they’re usually not sufficient to cowl the fee — at the moment, it faces a 30% finances deficit, based on Liang.

“If we had more sufficient funding, we’ll be able to train more guide dogs,” Liang mentioned. “But the reality is, we can only operate on the money we’ve got.”

More than 20 guide dogs graduate from the China Dalian Guide Dog Training Center each year.

The heart at the moment has about 30 instructors. Many of them are younger college graduates who’re obsessed with dogs and serving to others — and are dedicated sufficient to simply accept a month-to-month wage 60% beneath the town’s common earnings.

Liang, who graduated from college in 2011, gave up her job provide as a civil servant to hitch the middle as an teacher — in opposition to the recommendation of everybody round her. “My parents disapproved it, and my boyfriend broke up with me because of it, but I had my mind set on the job — it is a cause that’s worth devoting my passion and youth for,” she mentioned.

Liang hopes the federal government — particularly the central authorities in Beijing — can provide extra funding, provided that its guide dogs are supplied to candidates not simply from Dalian, but throughout China. The heart can be making an attempt to boost public consciousness about guide dogs on social media, hoping to herald extra donations.

Public acceptance

Yang, and different guide canine customers, mentioned that guide dogs have grow to be extra accepted by the Chinese public lately. More usually than not, they’re allowed on subways, buses and trains, particularly in first-tier cities equivalent to Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

But another cities nonetheless have a protracted approach to go. In April, in an try to check public acceptance, a site visitors officer in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, pretended to be blind and tried to board a bus with a guide canine. He ended up being waved off the bus by the driving force and scolded by some passengers for losing their time. The video of his encounter went viral on Chinese social media, drawing requires extra public consciousness on the difficulties confronted by the nation’s blind.

While guide dogs have allowed Yang and others to journey extra freely, there are additionally obstacles — many motels nonetheless do not settle for guide dogs, and shopping for a airplane ticket can typically flip right into a bureaucratic nightmare. Even if a guide canine has legitimate work allow and correct vaccine certificates, many airways requires a separate well being certificates — the sort wanted for the transportation of pets and livestock, which will be tough to acquire.

Chinese legal guidelines are obscure on using guide dogs in public. The Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons says “blind persons shall comply with relevant state regulations when entering public places with guide dogs,” but it does not specify what the “relevant state regulations” are.

Some cities have issued their very own insurance policies to permit guide dogs in public locations and transports, but enforcement will be spotty.

Yang mentioned he had been turned down by bus drivers, motels and eating places, but he wasn’t discouraged. Instead, he handled each refusal as a possibility to let another particular person study guide dogs.

“There are only some 200 guide dogs in a country of 1.4 billion people — the chance of meeting one is extremely low,” he mentioned. “That’s why we need pioneers to introduce them (to society.)”

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