My name is Wang Zhen, and my English name is Alex. I’m 40 years old. I’m a blind person. I lost my vision in 2009, and with it I lost almost everything. I lost my family, my job, and a lot of other things I was used to having.
In that moment, people thought that I didn’t have any possibility to work, to continue living. My wife left. My boss told me to go.
I felt like I could still do something and I tried to express it, but nobody understood me.
Now I have my own business, I’m the founder of a charity group named Renpin Community Service center for disabilities, and I’m also the founder of a computer company, which designs non-barrier games and applications for visually impaired persons.
I had an eye problem that developed very slowly for a long time, but in 2008 it suddenly started developing very quickly, and in 2009 I was completely blind. I didn’t expect it. I had just come back from Germany, where I did my masters and worked, and I was just starting a new job, a new family.
At this point of my life, I was quite like a normal person other people in Shanghai: I enjoyed competition. My wishes were to continue having a good job, a good family, and good friends. But from the moment I became blind, everything changed radically. I had no opportunities anymore. I lost my confidence, and I lost the possibility to be normal –as I was told, I had to live the life of a blind person.
A life of a blind person is to stay home, or become a massager.
You’re not supposed to start a business, or make your own life decisions.
But I did, and it’s very exciting, because I can design my own way to work, my own way to live. With my partner, I design projects for visually impaired people. We receive different kinds of support, and we offer services to other visually impaired people, to help them being more confident and independent.
We offer computer services, such as learning how to use WeChat, Alipay, Skype, and QQ, to almost 1000 people in Shanghai, and we also provide services to rural areas; for example, we provide remote computer skill classes for one special education school in Guizhou.
Apart from computer skills, we also provide different kinds of activities. Blind people have the same desires as other people, such as traveling and socializing. Therefore, on the weekends, we have volunteers going with visually impaired people to the park, to walk and talk. We also organize trips around China.
A lot of people are visually impaired because of accidents or sudden diseases; they never even knew anything about blindness. Therefore, a lot of visually impaired people live in deep depression. They stay home, they’re angry, they don’t adapt or gain new abilities or skills, and so we also provide psychological support, to help them combat depression and other bad emotions.
I try to give positive examples through my work; I’m a total blind and I do a lot, which means there are other possibilities for blind and visually impaired people too.
In 2009, I thought that blindness was a complete defect. I thought it would be impossible for me to get a work position, or impossible to live independently. And nobody told me how, and nobody gave me an example, but almost 9 years passed, and now I have found a way to grow and to be independent.
Technology has developed very quickly; we can use the mobile phone text to speech engine, and we can use screen reader software. This progress allows us to do a lot of things independently and confidently.
There are a lot of companies, maybe for commercial reasons or maybe for social responsibility, that are willing to develop non-barrier applications for visually impaired persons. In 2010/2011 we couldn’t use Alipay or WeChat, but now we can use 70-80% of their functions. And all for free, like the other users.
It is possible for blind people to live in their own independent way.
But in general, traveling in the city is not so easy, and it’s one of the challenges I have to face.
When I move, I usually walk or take the metro. The metro is very convenient because a lot of destinations are near the stations and some metro stations provide special services; in big stations, like People’s Square, there is someone to help visually impaired people change lines.
Public buses are a bit difficult because we cannot see the numbers, and people in the bus stop move very fast which makes it difficult to catch them and ask for help.
I can also use Didi with the screen reading software – many apps are allowing us to live with fewer barriers.
On the street, it’s difficult to find help because I need to go after human voice. On the metro, there are always many people around, but if I need to find the exit, for example, I always need to ask at least 3 times before someone replies to me.
I think that people don’t pay a lot of attention to each other.
Sometimes, I’m walking on the special line for blind people with my walking stick, and people bump into me and blame me angrily, “can’t you see?”, and then I reply, “no, I cannot see, I’m blind, can’t you see?”
Sometimes I ask for help, but I can hear they’re too focused on their phones and ignore me.
I don’t know how people react to me, because I cannot see them, but I have heard young people telling their children, “look, he’s blind”, but will not help me even if I’m trying to find my way. It has even happened that they said something negative about me to their child, like if I’m rubbish. For some people, blind people are trash on their way.
These situations are not so common, I must say, but it has happened.
It has also happened that people have used the negative word xiazi (瞎子), instead of mangren (盲人), the best word to say blind. To say xiazi to me on the street is like saying “get away”. They say it because I’m in their way, but I cannot know that. It’s not so common to happen, but when it does, it’s usually a young voice saying these things.
Many people will help and accept us as well, though. There are many volunteers in our organization that have no disability that are using their time to help us.
I think that the situation for visually impaired people is better than before, but there are still many challenges to overcome.
There are more people understanding visually impaired people and they are now more willing to give you opportunities, but it takes a long time to convince them you can do it. Public policies are paying more attention to us, but they prefer to support more normal organizations, instead of small organizations like us, in which the founder is blind.
Another challenge is social life.
It’s difficult to make or keep friends because we can only hear, and normal people want to do many things that require seeing, so we are not very convenient friends.
Common groups don’t really understand blind people. They know you’re blind but sometimes they still use their gestures, but I cannot understand those gestures, I cannot see.
In China, it’s very common to build relationships based on what you have and on what the other person has to give you; many times it relates to money or power. And you can even feel this in disability groups. It’s really not easy to get real, deep connections.
When it comes to dating, it is even worse. Dating is very practical in Shanghai. Even if they like a blind person, their family will create too many problems. I could find someone from other province because then they could get the residence in Shanghai, some people do that, but I don’t like it, it’s just a business.
Most people who are blind or visually impaired have very little chances to find a partner.
In China, they say that to be blind is to have the disability of the disability. It means to have double disability. Sometimes, even other people with disabilities will discriminate against you.
In order to overcome my challenges, I changed my attitude.
Sometimes, nobody will help me. It’s a big wish to hope there will always be someone to help me, or to think there will be someone to accept me.
I simply cannot expect too much.
I had to teach myself to think that the result is not so important, what is important is to try. I know I’ll be missing chances just because I’m blind, but I’ll try.
If I’m lucky, I will find some help.
But it’s just practical to persuade myself to keep my expectations and wishes lower. I have to deliver the big dream through small dreams, small tasks, step by step.
Changing my attitude is the first step.
Then, I know there is a lot to be done. We have a lack of services and opportunities for blind and visually impaired people, but this also means there is a lot of space to do something and try to change the situation.
The fact that the situation is not good brings opportunity to make it good; many things haven’t been done yet for us, and that is a chance for us to do something for ourselves.
When something happens to you and you become weak, then you expect other people to help you; but when you’re strong you don’t feel like you have to help others who need. You just pass by.
We need to promote diversity and we need to promote human rights.
Diversity will let more people understand different lives, and human rights will let people see that we are humans.
We are human beings! And we need to be treated like persons; we need to be respected like any other person.
Yes, I’m blind, and I’m a human being too.
We need much more than money and material resources in order to develop a society.
We need an education system that includes courses about people with disabilities and how to deal with disabilities. Young people need to be educated to be a person with other persons, and to pay attention to the other persons.
We all need to pay more attention to each other, and we need to make a world in which we can all live.
A world that is good for people with disabilities is also good for everyone else.
If you don’t make a world that is good for all, sooner or later you can also be hurt by this world. Nobody can guarantee tomorrow you’re still healthy or rich. If you become weak, maybe people will treat you like you’ve been treating them.
A lot of people have disabilities because of accidents or sudden diseases that they never predicted. They never even knew about people with disabilities before.
We never know tomorrow, but if we create a world that is good for every human being, it will also be good for you, and for whomever you might become.
Too many people just pay attention to their money, without realizing how much more important it is to build a better society.
If you have a society in which people pay attention to each other, in which people treat strangers like family members, everyone will benefit.
We come from zero and we go back to zero. In between, we should be realizing our value.
We need a world with opportunities for everyone, for the visually impaired too, because we have skills, knowledge and dreams. We’re only a burden because the society doesn’t give us opportunities to be anything else.
Creating this world is the responsibility of every single one of us.