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Yang Jia: The visually impaired deserves equal access to cinemas

Source: China Plus Updated: 2018-03-09

Yang Jia (L2) visits the China Braille Library in Beijing to find out the latest devices to help with the reading of the visually impaired on February 27, 2018. [Photo: China Plus]
Professor Yang Jia is the only visually impaired member of the CPPCC, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Now into her third term as an advisor for the CPPCC, Professor Yang is pushing for the promotion of accessible films and accessible cinema for people with visual impairments.
Films are an integral part of our culture and society. They give us an opportunity to spend time with our friends and family. And they are an opportunity to share our emotions, whether that means laughing together, or crying together.

Yet there is a section of society that often misses out on much of what cinema has to offer.

The next time you're watching a movie, close your eyes for a moment and try to make sense of the story. Where there's dialogue it might not be too difficult.

But during parts of the film where there's no talking, just music or movement on screen, you might feel that you've missing out on part of the story.

This little experiment gives you some idea of what it's like for a visually impaired person trying to watch a movie.

Professor Yang Jia believes that people with disabilities should have equal access to films and cinemas as sighted people. A desire to make this a reality is the reason behind one of her proposals to the CPPCC, China's top government advisory body.

"We could have some sound track, additional sound track, for people with visually impairment if they are seated in some special zones with special devices. But if the soundtrack is not available, we can have the announcer to talk about it."

One of the ways that visually impaired viewers can better enjoy a film is through the use of a sound track where a narrator describes the action happening on the screen. Narrator-described movies are an important technique to help people with visually impairment enjoy cinema alongside sighted people.

Yang Jia attends a group discussion of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body, in Beijing on March 4, 2018. [Photo: China Plus]

Making more films accessible in this way is an important step towards making cinemas more inclusive.

"It's very important because it's part of cultural life. We can get a good glimpse of society. We can laugh and cry with the rest of the movie goers."

Yang Jia was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 29, which led to her losing her sight. But that didn't stop her from graduating with a Master of Public Administration from the world-leading Harvard Kennedy School. She works as a professor at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. And as a member of the CPPCC, she has submitted more than 60 proposals during her past two terms, many of which have gained traction.

She believes losing her sight has allowed her to see the world in many different ways. 

"People with visual impairment can take the national entrance exam just as the sighted people. That was one of my proposals. I have a sense of accomplishment."

Yang's proposals this year also include advocating legislation for people with rare diseases, standardizing garbage collection, and cracking down on illegal financial services that target senior and rural citizens.

Yang is also an executive member of the All-China Women's Federation. She will continue in her efforts to promote gender equality and the protection of women's rights. 

"We are China's soft power, and we are also women warriors. My mentor, Professor Li Pei, happen to be China's only women participant in the world's first women's assembly in Paris in 1945. As her student, I'm horned to follow her steps."

Now into her third term on the CPPCC, Yang believes she's becoming more optimistic about her role, and her voice has grown louder in its calls to make society more inclusive.

"I made my voice heard in many different ways, and it really made a difference. Through the years, I see clearly where I'm going, and where China is heading for."

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