During the summer of 2000, I had the opportunity to work in an orphanage for children with disabilities in China through an organization callled International China Concern. Up to this point, I had yet to be touched personally by disability. This experience caused me to interact with disability on a daily basis for 6 weeks and resulted in my definitions of disability being challenged.
In China, the idea of disability has its roots seeped in moral and spiritual superstition. History has stories of people healed from disability by unknown substances prescribed by doctors to rid the body of evil spirits. This association of evil spirits and disability is still present in Chinese culture. On the other hand, mental, psychological or learning disabilities are often viewed as a result of lack of effort and motivation to improve oneself. Since mental, psychological or learning disabilities are seen as a lack of effort and motivation to improve oneself, physical disabilities are most recognized in Chinese culture. In China, there are a limited number of schools for those with physical disabilities. Those who are unable to qualify for schools for physically disabled persons struggle within the regular school system which provides no accommodations. Those with mental or psychological disabilities are often kept hidden within the home. Persons with disabilities are not regarded highly in Chinese society and as such many infants and children with disabilities are left in front of orphanages.
When I arrived in China, I had no idea what to expect and yet this is what greeted me each day I was there. Each day I was greeted with smiles and laughter of children wanting to play and interact with their caregivers. Each day I was greeted with children trying to be as independent as they possibly could. Regardless of whether they had a overt or hidden disability, each child just wanted genuine love and care. They wanted to know they were of value. Disability does not change our basic needs. A person with a disability, like all persons, needs basic care, safety, belonging, self-esteem and the chance to achieve their best.