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China: New Accessibility Regulations Passed

(Oct. 3, 2012) China’s new Regulations on Construction of a Barrier-Free Environment, which came into effect on August 1, 2012, require all newly built roads and buildings in urban areas to meet the barrier-free construction standards to provide accessibility to people with disabilities. The Regulations were promulgated by the State Council and signed by Premier Wen Jiabao on June 28, 2012. (Text of the Regulations [in Chinese], The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China website (June 28, 2012).)

As part of implementing efforts for the new Regulations, the 2001 version of the accessibility national standards, Design Standards of Barrier-Free Urban Roads and Buildings, were amended and re-published on September 1, 2012. (Wuzhang’ai Sheji Guifan Guojia Biaozhun Banbu Shishi [National Standards of Barrier-Free Design Specifications Promulgated and Effective], China Disabled Persons’ Federation website (Sept. 13, 2012).)

The Regulations are designed to create accessibility, or as the Regulations call it, barrier-free environments, to guarantee that disabled persons and other members of society can participate equally in social life. (Regulations, supra, art. 1) “Construction of barrier-free environments,” as defined by the Regulations, refers to construction activities to facilitate access by the disabled to roads, to the entrances and exits of buildings, to public transportation, to exchanges of information, and to community services in an independent and safe manner. (Id. art. 2.)

Since taking effect, the Regulations have required all urban, newly-constructed, altered, and extended roads, public buildings, public transportation facilities, residential buildings, and residential communities to meet the barrier-free standards of construction work. (Id. art. 9.) For those works already built that do not satisfy the standards and for rural areas, the Regulations specify that the standards must be “gradually reached.” (Id.) In particular, the Regulations require medium- to large-sized public parking lots and parking lots in large residential communities in cities to designate barrier-free parking spaces, for the exclusive use of physically-disabled persons. (Id. art. 14.)

The Regulations also require the government at various levels to promote barrier-free design in information exchange, by providing examination papers printed in Braille, electronic examination papers, or staff assistance to attendees with visual disabilities at state-operated examinations; broadcasting news programs with sign language at least once per week on state-run TV stations; and supplying voice and written warnings and other information exchange services in sign language and Braille in public places. (Id. arts. 20, 21, & 24.) Publicly distributed video products, including movies and TV shows, must have subtitles. (Id. art. 21.)

The concept of barrier-free environments is not new to Chinese law. When China’s Law on Protection of the Disabled was first passed in 1990, there was an article calling for “gradual realization” of barrier-free design of urban roads and buildings, for the convenience of disabled persons. (Canjiren Baozhang Fa [Law on Protection of the Disabled] (promulgated Dec. 28, 1990, effective May 15, 1991), 4 The Laws of the People’s Republic of China (1990-1992), 125 (1993).) The article was expanded to a chapter of seven articles when the Law was amended in 2008, providing specific requirements to the state and the society to adopt measures to construct barrier-free facilities and promote barrier-free information exchange, “so the disabled may participate in social life on an equal basis.” (Law on Protection of the Disabled (amended Apr. 24, 2008, effective July 1, 2008) [in Chinese], art. 52, The Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China website.)

Implementation of the barrier-free provisions in the Law on Protection of the Disabled, however, varies from locality to locality. The passage of the Regulations by the State Council is expected to be critical for promoting accessibility nation-wide, which will facilitate wider involvement of the disabled in social life in the country, as pointed out by the comments published in government official media. (Guowuyuan Banbu “Wuzhang’ai Huanjing Jianshe Tiaoli,” 8 Yue 1 Ri Qi Shixing – Baozhang Canjiren Pingdeng Canyu Shehui Shenghuo [The State Council Promulgated “Regulations on Construction of Barrier-Free Environments,” to Take Effect on August 1 – Guaranteeing the Disabled Equal Participation in Social Life], Xinhuanet (July 30, 2012).)