Disability no barrier to can-do spirit

Updated: 2013-12-03 13:18

By Nick Compton (China Daily)

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Disability no barrier to can-do spirit

Yi Xiaoyuan, accompanied by his father, came to register as a new student at Tsinghua University in August 2012. China Photo Press

Wheelchair-bound Yi Xiaoyuan has never let his physical condition hold him back. Now a student at Beijing's Tsinghua University, he tells Nick Compton that his misfortunes have made him stronger.

Disability no barrier to can-do spirit

When he talks about his disability, Yi Xiaoyuan has a serious look on his face. His voice doesn't halter and his gaze doesn't wander. He has been in a wheelchair for 10 years, since he was 11 years old and his rheumatoid arthritis worsened.

With his mother sitting next to him in his dorm room at Tsinghua University, his responses are measured, and his voice confident. He wants you to know about his disability not because he considers himself exceptional, but because in China, disability is often not spoken about with this kind of frank openness.

"Disabled people in China don't need money or sympathy," Yi says. "What they need is a chance."

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Now in his second year as a computer-science major at Tsinghua, Yi has received that chance.

The China Disabled People's Federation estimates that in 2012, there were up to 8,000 students with disabilities in China's higher-education system.

Staying with Yi in a firstfloor dorm room next to his - connected by a shared foyer, a kitchenette and bathroom - is his mother, Guo Qiongfen. She left behind her job as a nursing teacher, as well her 10-year-old daughter and husband 2,700 km away in Yuxi, Yunnan province, to care for her only son in Beijing. Although both of them have effusive praise for the help Tsinghua has given them, financial and otherwise, they acknowledge that without her help Yi couldn't shoulder the burdens of student life.

"My family means everything to me," he says.

Besides the 20-minute journey to class every day in his electric wheelchair, his mother helps him wash, dress and do other things many of us take for granted. With her background in medicine, she also directs his daily therapy sessions. The price of their accommodation includes cleaning by the dormitory staff, but she politely declines the service and uses her spare time to sweep and mop the tiled floor. She doesn't want to be a burden, she says.

Upon applying to Tsinghua, Yi was contacted by an admissions representative who promised he wouldn't be turned away because of his disability. Yi was advised which majors would be the most feasible and which, like automotive engineering, would be next-to-impossible. Because the Chinese student dormitories were not wheelchair-accessible, he was offered a comparatively plush international student dorm room for the same price, 1,500 yuan ($246) per year. For her room, Guo pays the full international price of 80 yuan per day (roughly 2,400 yuan per month).

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