During the 2008 Paralympic Games, Beijing gave many conveniences to people with disabilities, among them the use of a guide dog. But after the games ended, Beijing returned to normal for the blind. What is living in the capital city like for the blind with a guide dog? Chen Yan, a Beijing woman with a visual disability, finds that walking on Beijing streets is difficult even with her guide dog Jenny.
“One day, Chen Yan tried to bring her guide dog, Jenny, with her into a subway station. This was their 11th attempt, and Chen was not surprised when a subway worker stopped them outside the gate, saying, ‘Pets are not allowed on the subway.’
Although Chen explained that Jenny is not a pet and showed the worker the guide dog’s work certificate, the worker told her to leave.
At the worker’s words, Jenny’s tail and ears drooped. She bowed her head almost to the ground. As a guide dog, Jenny has an IQ close to a 10-year-old child’s. She understood that she had been rejected. Chen bent down and patted Jenny on the back, ‘Jenny, I’m sorry I always bring you to places that reject you. Mama won’t bring you to the subway again.’
Jenny has developed a mild phobia of the words ‘subway station’, retreating hastily whenever she hears them. ‘Like me, Jenny is afraid of being rejected,’ Chen said. ‘I thought Jenny could help me live more of a normal life, but it is too difficult.'”
Even though people with disabilities can ride the bus and subway for free, the entire experience is so painstakingly inconvenient that Chen Yan finds it to be a “demoralizing experience that strips her of her dignity”:
“Every time she wants to take the subway, Chen has to find a subway worker to check her proof of disability papers. Then they either swipe a card to let her in, or ask her to follow another passenger closely so that she can get in using their card. The entire experience is extremely unpleasant.
“They repeatedly tell you to hurry up,” Chen said. As she cannot see, Chen has difficulties getting through the gate and she is always afraid of being hit by the sliding gate.
Getting out is an even bigger ordeal. She usually has to find a good-hearted passenger to help her get out using his or her card.”
A black Labrador, Jenny had been professionally trained to lead Chen across the street, find escalators, find seats on the bus, go to the supermarket, shopping malls, and banks. If reality was more friendly, Jenny would’ve become Chen’s eyes in the city of Beijing. But so far their experiences mostly ends with rejections. Jenny has only been allowed on buses 3 times and the subway once, and even these were because they had journalists and a camera crew with them. Aside from public transportation, supermarkets and restaurants are not open to the idea of a guide dog either. The only supermarket Jenny can enter is the one where she passed an exam, after Chen got the neighborhood committee’s help in convincing the manager:
“Luckily, Jenny finished every order Chen gave her and impressed everyone who was watching. So the manager proposed a bigger challenge: bringing Jenny to the deli section. Chen was not confident.
But once she smelled the meat, Jenny immediately lay down on the ground as she had been taught at the base. After the test, that supermarket became the first supermarket that Jenny could enter in Beijing.
Jenny can also go to KFC and McDonald’s. The first time Chen brought her to a KFC, two workers shoved Chen out of the door and one of them closed the door and hit Jenny’s head. The next day, Chen’s friend brought a camera and went there with them. Wary of having their behavior recorded, the KFC staff allowed them in.
Currently, Jenny and Chen can go to a free market, a square and a restaurant in their neighborhood. The restaurant only allowed them in after an unpleasant fight.”
It is a wonder that the entire Beijing shrinks to around 5 individual stores for Jenny and Chen. They can also only enter one specific hospital, the Aviation General Hospital. Traveling proves to be both difficult and expensive:
“As Jenny is not allowed on buses, subways and taxis, Chen has to spend 300 yuan (US$ 48.3) each time she hires a driver and a car for a day of bringing Jenny around. She also has to pay for the driver’s lunch. For the most part though, Chen and Jenny stay home. Chen knows another guide dog called Vivian, also living in Beijing, who gained 13 pounds in two years. Her owner gained weight as well. “
The Law on Protection of Disabled Persons and other disabled-friendly policies are vague and non-specific, thus rejecting Jenny is not illegal. Paralympic Ping Yali and her guide dog share the same experiences too, having often been rejected to enter the subway.
Since Jenny can not help Chen most of the time, and has become obese due to lack of exercise, she has to go to an animal hospital that costs 1,200 RMB a month. Chen feels desperate and frustrated: “I don’t know how long more I can hold on. If I give up, I have to treat Jenny like a pet.” “In fact, it’s not sight that we blind people crave the most, but freedom.”
You can follow Chen’s life with Jenny on Weibo (导盲犬珍妮). Right now, Chen and Jenny are completing a challenge 一人一狗走天下 (One Person One Dog Around the World). Chen updates the journey stories on Weibo, telling what happens each day for her and Jenny, such as where Jenny is allowed to enter, and the excuses the staff provide when they are refused.