Last week, when Beijing announced that seeing eye dogs would be allowed on the Beijing metro, my first thought wasn’t “wow, this is a great move on Beijing’s part.” Instead, my first thought was “seeing eye dogs weren’t already allowed on Beijing subways?” followed by “seeing eye dogs aren’t already allowed on all of China’s subways?”
While allowing seeing eye dogs on Beijing subways is a great thing, it is shameful that such a reasonable accommodation for the blind is only just now being made. Allowing seeing eye dogs to accompany their owners everywhere they go seems like a common-sense regulation that could be enacted with the sweep of a pen.
China has a huge problem with accessibility services. My husband and I are in the process of adopting a child here in China. We have considered adopting a child with disabilities, but the lack of accessibility services is worrisome. The last apartment building we lived in was beautiful and in a great community, but we lived on the fourth floor with no elevator, which would make life very difficult for a child with disabilities.
In fact, there are problems for the disabled everywhere in this city.
There are many buildings in China, even government buildings, schools, train and bus stations, that are completely inaccessible to people with disabilities. Shenzhen Daily has published many heartbreaking stories about children who have had to drop out of school because their classrooms are inaccessible.
Many of Shenzhen’s subway stations don’t have enough elevators and escalators and some streets are difficult for a wheelchair to cross.
Many of China’s sidewalks also pose dangers for the disabled since they are often uneven or blocked by cars and street vendors.
Even when taking the ferry from Shenzhen to Hong Kong, it would be impossible for many disabled people to enter Hong Kong because the immigration check is upstairs and there is no elevator in the building.
I realize that fixing these problems will take time. After all, new escalators, elevators, and ramps all require money, but allowing seeing eye dogs to accompany their owners wherever the owner goes wouldn’t require any money or infrastructure, it would require a simple change of the law.
Seeing eye dogs have been used for hundreds of years.
The dogs do much more than simply help their owners navigate outside the safety and familiarity of their homes. Seeing eye dogs protect their owners from danger and guide them through the hazards of a city.
The dogs provide their owners with confidence, companionship and security. The dogs also reduce stress for their owners, which leads to a better quality of life.
Seeing eye dogs are not merely pets, they are tools that many blind people need to survive.
According to the China Association of the Blind, there are over 17 million people in China who are visually impaired. But according to the China Guide Dog Training Center, China’s only training institution for guide dogs, only 67 dogs had graduated from their program as of February 2014 while another 54 dogs were in training and a group of 35 puppies were being prepared for training. In the U.S., there are currently 13 organizations that provide hundreds of guide dogs absolutely free for visually impaired persons every year.
One of the reasons seeing eye dogs are not popular in China — despite the obvious need — is that owners are not allowed to bring the dogs with them to many places they need to go.
Why would a person with a visual impairment have a dog if he or she can’t take the dog on the subway, on a bus, into a grocery store or to the bank?
The whole purpose of a seeing eye dog is to protect its owner when navigating the world. Restrictions on seeing eye dogs nullify their benefits.
The very least the Chinese Government could do for the blind in China is pass a nationwide law allowing seeing eye dogs to accompany their owners wherever they go.
This isn’t something that needs to happen slowly over time — this problem could be rectified today.
Throw seeing eye dogs a bone and let them help their owners!