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Disabled no longer forbidden from city
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08:26, September 11, 2008

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· Paralympics
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Although Zhang Guimei lives only a short distance from Beijing's Palace Museum, until yesterday she had never visited the world-famous tourist attraction.

The reason is simple: for her, and anyone else bound to a wheelchair, until recently, the spectacular ancient city was not so much "forbidden" as impenetrable.

Thankfully for the 50-year-old, who has suffered from polio since she was just 10 months old, there have been a lot of changes at the museum, and it is now much more accessible.

Zhang visited the site as part of a tour organized by the Dongcheng Disabled Persons' Federation for 100 disabled people and their families from Beijing's Dongcheng district.

The highlight of the day, she said, was climbing up to the Hall of Supreme Harmony - with the help of a newly installed wheelchair hoist - from where she could look down on the vast courtyard below.

"Everything looks so small from up here. It's a brand new experience for me," she said.

Living just two subway stops from the museum, Zhang said she had always wanted to pay it a visit.

"But it had too many stairs and steep slopes," she said.

"Now, it's much better. I can get in for free and there are ramps and hoists to nearly all the halls.

"As a Beijinger, it would be a great shame never to see the Forbidden City, but now I have."

Duan Yong, the museum's director, said yesterday: "All of the new facilities were completed in May, at a cost of 4 million yuan ($585,000).

"There are now five lifts and a 1-km-long ramp for the benefit of wheelchair users."

China Daily also spoke yesterday with Australian tourist Irene Sophios who was visiting the Forbidden City with her wheelchair-bound husband.

"The facilities are marvellous," she said.

"They're just as good as any you would find in Australia."

But not everyone agrees the museum's work is now complete.

Chen Jinyuan, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Handicapped Youth, said there are still not enough toilets for disabled visitors and that the wheelchair access ramps should be made less steep.

However, those details did not detract from 50-year-old wheelchair user Zhang Fulan's enjoyment yesterday, during his visit to the Hall of Preserving Harmony.

Weighing in at 100 kg, Zhang is well aware he is not the easiest person to push around, even in a wheelchair.

On the ramp up to the hall, he called to his volunteer pusher Lu Minghu: "One, two, three, and push!"

Moments later they were at the top and face-to-face with the imperial dragon chair.

"This is the what the Paralympics has done," he said.

"All these things I thought I'd never see, and here they are, a reality."

Source: China Daily

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