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  • Chris McMillan

Accessibility for Taiwan’s Disabled: A Work in Progress

Taiwan Business Topics

18th December 2018

Accessibility for Taiwan’s Disabled: A Work in Progress

Attitudes and facilities have improved, but much more still needs to be done.

Taiwan is a crowded place. The population per square kilometer is nearly 20 times that of the United States, and the cities are crammed with parked vehicles and snack vendors. Although accessibility for wheelchair users has improved in recent years, for the hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese who are unable to step around or over obstacles, simply trying to reach the supermarket or the dentist can still be an arduous experience.

Given the rapid aging of the Taiwan population – by 2026, 21% of the people will be over the age of 65 – the need for better accessibility will only be increasing sharply in the years ahead.

Uta Rindfleisch-Wu, a German who has lived in Taiwan since the early 1980s, credits Taiwan with having “come quite far” in terms of access for the physically challenged. Ramps have been retrofitted to thousands of buildings, for example. Elevators large enough for mobility scooters can be found at almost all Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) stations, and TRA staff have been trained to assist those who need help.

Rindfleisch-Wu, whose daughter has cerebral palsy, is a consultant at the Therapeutic Riding Center in Taoyuan City’s Xinwu District. Recently Rindfleisch-Wu traveled to several places in Taiwan with a friend who can walk, but not for significant distances, and who finds stairs difficult. “Nearly everywhere we went there were toilets for the disabled and wheelchair ramps,” she says. “In places managed by government agencies, one can always borrow a wheelchair.”

However, she rates conditions at Taoyuan International Airport as less than ideal. “In Terminal 1, there are no benches or chairs between the security checkpoint and gate A5. People who usually don’t need a wheelchair might need a rest between these points. Similarly, in the departure hall of Terminal 2 there are hardly any chairs. This is something that really needs improvement.”

A similar problem exists at the Fengshan TRA Station, which was recently rebuilt when the central Kaohsiung stretch of railroad was moved underground. Inside the station, no seating is available until one has passed through the ticket barrier.

On the plus side, physically challenged people face less discrimination than was traditionally the case. In the past, Buddhist notions of rebirth and accumulated merit caused some Taiwanese to assume that disability was a punishment for violating moral axioms in a previous existence, but such views are no longer very common. As National Taipei University sociologist Chang Heng-hao noted in a 2014 paper in the international journal Review of Disability Studies, until the 1980s people with disabilities were often referred to as cánfèi (殘廢). The first character means “disabled,” while the second implies “worthlessness” or “uselessness.” Now the preferred terms are cánzhàng (殘障, “disabled and impaired”) or zhàng’àizhě (障礙者, “people with disabilities”).

Still, according to activists, the overall situation in Taiwan remains mixed at best.

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