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Blind veterans in China pass on spirit of independence by Jin Ling,June 04, 2019 Adjust font size:

Visually-impaired students in Beijing Union University vow to try their best to accomplish all tasks on their own in the opening ceremony of an independent living camp. ( Photo provided by Beijing Sound Wave Disabled Persons’ Social Service Center)

Intro: Crossing the road, taking public transport, shopping, walking up and down the stairs… These are all easy tasks for sighted people. However, for those with visual impairment, doing these independently takes a great deal of effort to learn.

Wen Kexin, a visually impaired student from Beijing Union University, was trying to cross a street near Muxiyuan in the south of Beijing on a Saturday morning. Carrying a cane, he walked slowly but with determination, while listening to the sounds around. When he finally arrived at the other side of the street, he smiled and felt relieved.

With other eleven schoolmates, Wen was attending a mobility training camp from May 24 to 27 jointly hosted by the university and Beijing Sound Wave Disabled Persons’ Social Service Center, and sponsored by Bosch China and Youren Foundation. During the camp, students were required to carry out a series of tasks, such as crossing the road, taking public transport, and purchasing in shopping complexes. Each one was followed by a volunteer,who was not there to help them but to protect them in case of danger.

A sales woman teaches Wen Kexin (left), a visually impaired student, how to use a vacuum cleaner. Wen traveled to the shop by subway on his own as an assignment in the independent living camp. ( Photo provided by Beijing Sound Wave Disabled Persons’ Social Service Center)

“The biggest obstacle hindering us from independent living might not be technical skills, but psychological barriers. Unlike the trainers for similar courses, our trainers are all experienced blind veterans who can pass on both skills and confidence,” says Yang Qingfeng, head of Sound Wave and initiator of this camp. Yang completely lost his sight as a child.

Stew.Tiger, a volunteer, wrote on the center’s website that he was very moved to see many passers-by helping the blind. Some made way, some communicated helpful information, some cleared obstacles, some stood by to prevent students stepping into puddles… But many do not know exactly how to help, like one gentlemen who bent down in front of a shop under construction, silently using his hands to guide the white canes, in order to prevent the carriers from stepping on the sand or into the rails. He didn’t realize that speaking to them may be the best way.

Looking serious,Zhang Yue, another visually impaired participant, crosses the road with a white cane. She has just started to practice crossing the road on her own, but does not yet dare to cross where there are no talking traffic lights. ( Photo provided by Beijing Sound Wave Disabled Persons’ Social Service Center)

Zhang raises her left hand to show that she wants to cross the road. After a day of practice, she seems a little more relaxed. (Photo provided by Beijing Sound Wave Disabled Persons’ Social Service Center)

“All my schools are well paved by tactile roads, so I rarely use a white cane inside the campus. Although it feels unnecessary to do so, it makes me feel more confident that I can master the skills,” said Zhang Yue, another visually impaired student.

It’s natural for unsighted people to be nervous about traveling alone, but as the organizers say, while just one camp may not solve every problem, the confidence the participants gain can help them go further. And the more we see people with vision loss in the public, the better we understand how to help them, Tiger added.

To date, the center has held five such camps, and the previous four in Nanjing, Tianjin, Yantai and Changsha respectively. More than 50 participants have made progress towards independent living.

“The camp not only taught me mobility skills, but also gave me the courage to explore a wider world on my own. It is heartwarming and interesting, I will not hold myself back any more,” said Wen Kexin. “And I suggest that other people with vision loss try to step out independently, because if only we are willing to try, we will be able to do the things we want.”

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