Blind man Li Jinsheng wins right to sit college entrance exams in Zhumadian

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 9:29am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 7:24am

A blind man won permission at the 11th hour to sit the national college admission exams, a decision rights-watchers say could be a turning point in the mainland's treatment of disabled people.

Li Jinsheng, 45, spent days pressing education authorities in Zhumadian in Henan province to reconsider his application to take the test after they initially rejected him citing his condition.

"We're not letting you register because we're trying to be responsible for you," Li quoted an examination authority official as telling him.

But Li is not easily discouraged, and when he took his message to the media, the coverage drew wide public sympathy.

On Wednesday, just before the window to register for the National College Entrance Examination closed, he received a phone call from the authorities telling him the good news. "They called me at 5.01pm on Wednesday and told me. I was so overwhelmed. I'm happy; it was worth the wait," Li said, adding that he hoped to study law.

This is not Li's first brush with the mainland's often frustrating bureaucracy. A little over a decade ago, Li fought for 15 months to get permission to sit a self-study exam in traditional Chinese medicine, which he passed.

His push for equal access to education for disabled people brought him to the attention of Deng Pufang , the paraplegic son of Deng Xiaoping and the then chairman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation. Deng Pufang complimented him on his bravery, Li said, and recalled his persistence.

"I brought some steamed buns, slept on the pavement, and talked to … [the authorities] every day, and finally they let me register," Li said.

Human Rights Watch applauded the decision by Zhumadian authorities, but were waiting to see what arrangements were made to help Li take the exam. "It's really encouraging that he has been allowed to register after public pressure over the case, but I think it will only count as a real breakthrough for people with disabilities if he will be allowed to take the … national exams in braille or in other forms that accommodates his disability," said Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher.

An official 2011 census put the proportion of disabled people on the mainland at just under 7 per cent. But Human Rights Watch says the true figure is likely much higher, citing research by the World Health Organisation and the World Bank that put the global average at about 15 per cent. "There's a subconscious discrimination of disabled people in China. That's why even though China has provisions that protect the rights of disabled people, it's very difficult to implement the laws" said Huang Rui, a lawyer at the Henan Boyang law firm. Other observers agreed that enforcing the laws was largely left up to the provinces.

Li said he had already started preparing for the examination. "I'm focused on studying now, but my wish is they will let me take the test with a computer," Li said. "I hope that through this, and many other cases, the ministry of education will see the need for change in our education system".