There are now an estimated 83 million disabled people in China, an increase of 31 million, or 50 percent, since 1987, according to a national survey publicized on Friday.
The dramatic increase is the result of disabling diseases taking on China's rapidly aging population, and more work-place injuries and car accidents.
AN AGING SOCIETY
"The proportion of the population over the age of 60 grew to 11 percent in 2005, up from 8.5 percent in 1987," said a communique from the organizers of the second China National Sample Survey on Disability.
Disabled people are often defined as those who have a physical or mental impairment that creates a substantial disadvantage when they seek employment or access to the wider benefits of citizenship.
Of the total number of disabled, 44.16 million are over 60 years old, an increase of 23.65 million, or more than doubled the number in the 1987 survey. Seniors account for three quarters of the increase in the numbers of the nation's disabled.
MORE INDUSTRIAL, TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS
Deng Pufang, chairman of China Disabled Persons, said industrial injuries, traffic accidents, sports injuries and environmental pollution are also to blame for the dramatic increase in the number of physically disabled people.
Statistics showed that industrial injuries disable nearly 700,000 people every year. Most of them are migrant rural workers. Traffic accidents killed 82,000 and injured 400,000 in the first 11 months of this year.
Deng said the rise was to be expected at a time of rapid economic expansion.
"There is a correlation between the disabled population and socio-economic development," said Deng, also Chairman of the Leading Group of the Second China National Sample Survey on Disability.
Statistics on disability are difficult to compare internationally because different countries have different definitions.
In Britain, the proportion of "disabled" people is said to have risen from 7.1 percent in 1987 to 15 percent in 1994 and to 18 percent in 2002. The figure in the United States rose from 12 percent in 1991 to 18 percent in 2001. But in some African countries, "disabled" people only make up 1 percent of the national population.
"As economies develop and industrialize, people are more likely to run the risk of getting injured in factories, on construction sites or doing mechanical work," Deng explained. "While in a agricultural society, people are engaged in safer, simpler farming work."
Millions of farmers have flocked to cities where they live in poor conditions and don't have access to proper medical treatment, experts add.
REVISED DISABILITY CRITERIA
The growth of the aging population and the nation's headlong industrialization are not the whole story behind the rising number of disabled people. Disability classifications have been revised and other social and environmental factors account for the increases, the communique said.
China more narrowly defines what constitutes a disability making the rate comparatively lower here than in other countries, the communique said.
Deng explained that some developed countries count diabetics and people with heart trouble as disabled, while China excludes them.
"At present, it is commonly accepted by the international community that the disabled population is around 10 percent of the world population," said the communique
PEOPLE FIRST POLICY
The Chinese government is trying to expand assistance to more marginalized people.
"The government will take measures to enhance public awareness and understanding of disabled elderly people, help elderly disabled people regain their self-esteem, and enact specific statutes to safeguard their rights," said Zhang Weimin, deputy director of the National Statistics Bureau at a press conference in Beijing Friday.
Since 1998, 11.73 million disabled people have benefited from treatment programs, 80 percent of disabled children have received special education, and about 6 million people have regained their eyesight after having their cataracts removed, Deng told reporters on Friday.
The government has pledged to cover at least 10 million migrant workers with industrial injury insurance next year.
With the reliable information and extensive data obtained from the second survey, the government departments concerned will review existing policies, plans and programs for disabled people and make appropriate adjustments, he said.
The survey was conducted in all 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the Chinese mainland by 16 government organizations including the National Statistics Bureau, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the China Disabled Persons' Federation from April 1 to May 31, 2006.
The 738 survey teams consisted of more than 20,000 enumerators, 6,000 doctors, 730 statisticians and 50,000 survey assistants. They interviewed 2,526,145 persons in 771,797 households.