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Job barrier biggest for disabled

A lack of job opportunities is still the biggest complaint among people with disabilities in China, despite continued efforts by NGOs and policymakers to boost employment.

Data provided by the China Disabled Persons' Federation, the country's top disabled rights organization, show that the organization received about 17,000 letters, calls and visits from people last year.

"Difficulties in finding employment was the top issue for those in urban areas, and was among the three major challenges identified by those in rural areas," said Bo Shaoye, the federation's director of rights protection.

About 83 million people in China are believed to have some form of disability. Yet, "in 2010 the unemployment rate among this group was 8.6 percent", Bo said, twice as high as the national rate.

The law states that disabled people should make up at least 1.5 percent of the workforce in all government departments, NGOs, enterprises and institutions.

Although provincial-level authorities can set the ratio depending on their conditions, a report released this year by Beijing Yirenping Center, a NGO that fights job discrimination, suggested that almost 50 authorities in 30 large and medium-sized cities are failing to meet the quota.

For example, in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, just one of 6,000 new recruits since 2004 was registered disabled, according to the report.

Statistics provided by the Beijing Disabled Persons' Federation on Wednesday show that only 15,000 out of 600,000 employers in the capital's government departments are people with disabilities, which is also falling short of the requirement.

"To work is not just to gain dignity and respect, it is about survival," said Song Song, a volunteer at a nonprofit group in Beijing that provides job training for disabled people. "For the disabled, the question is who will look after them when their parents or legal guardians pass away."

Song, who is 30, was left badly scarred from a fire as a child and is missing five fingers. He said he has been rejected time and again by employers because they fear his face will scare off clients.

As well as social discrimination, he said disabled people are also hampered in the job market by other constraints, such as education and health problems.

"People who suffer from severe disabilities, physical or mental, usually had little opportunity to receive a good education or training as children because they were unable to leave the home without company," he said.

Yang Qing, who has had problems walking since contracting polio as an infant, said the only work she has been offered since leaving vocational school five years ago is in telephone marketing.

"The work doesn't require too much outdoor activity, but even so I still find it's challenging, simply because I can't get around as easily as an able-bodied person," said the 23-year-old, who lives in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong province.
She said it was also difficult finding a suitable apartment to rent near her workplace, or even using public toilets, as the majority of buildings still have poor disabled access.

Bo at China Disabled Persons' Federation said governments need to remove the barriers for the disabled in the job market by taking this group's interest into consideration when drawing up new policies.

Song agreed and added he feels the cyber world could be the solution to the employment struggle.

"The Internet is already an important channel for disabled people who want to connect with the outside world," he said.

"Given the boom in e-commerce, we can help them find suitable jobs, such as running online stores and Web design."

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