A Chinese woman by the name of Wang Fang declined a disability pension despite being born with feet that face backwards. This is news in Britain, if only, perhaps, so the intriguing pictures of the 27-year-old waitress and resident of Chongqing could be presented for the public to view.
Apparently, Wang's visibly different feet automatically qualify her for a disability pension in China, but she's refused both the "disabled" identity and the cash.
"I can run faster than most of my friends and have a regular job as a waitress in the family restaurant," she says. "There is no reason to class me as disabled. I'm like everyone else - except of course that I put my shoes on backwards."
She does wear her shoes backwards, and it appears that while her feet do truly "face backwards" they are not literally attached backwards so much as bent back so that she walks on the tops of her feet. (Visual description of the two photos here: Wang stands at the edge of some stairs next to another woman in the first photo, the camera shooting from below to show Wang wearing red bootie slippers worn backwards, with the heels facing the camera. In the second pic, Wang sits on a bench next to a child -- probably her five-year-old son -- while the same woman from the first photo supports her outstretched legs at the ankles. Wang, grinning broadly, is slightly blurred in the background, with the focus in the foreground on her bare feet. They are, indeed, turned backwards, and also small, wide, swollen, deeply callused and her toenails appear visible where most of us have pads on the underside of our toes.)
It looks painful. And it's fascinating, of course. That's why the pictures-- and the story as a whole -- exist in Britain's Telegraph. The news is that she denies being disabled or needing government money. The photos are evidence that she is visibly deformed and "legitimately" disabled. This little feature is newsworthy because she's interesting to gawk at. The story is too short to inform readers of any details about who Wang really is or what might be her true circumstances or full reasons for turning down the pension.
What caused her feet to form this way? Is it common? Is there medical treatment that could have "normalized" her feet when she was a child? Would that have been helpful or completely unnecessary? Does she need special shoes or wear the big slippers all the time? Is there pain? Are there work accommodations that help her? If her waitressing job wasn't in her family's restaurant would she be employable in China? If her family didn't have her as a waitress, would the business fold under the simple strain of paying another employee? How would that disability pension compare to a waitress' paycheck? Would she have to give up her job (and paycheck, if the family business issues her one) if she accepted the pension? That last is almost certainly true.
We learn nothing of that, yet here is what the Telegraph makes sure to report:
Ms Wang, a mother to a five-year-old boy - whose feet face the more usual forwards - is not looking for sympathy, and is certainly no benefit scrounger.
Her son is normal and she is not one of those "benefit scroungers," you see.
Here are some basic facts about disability in China that might have enriched what is otherwise a "freak show" feature:
According to the China Disabled Persons' Federation there are about 83 million disabled Chinese out of the total population of over 1.3 billion people. That's less than seven percent. (By comparison, the 2000 U.S. Census (.pdf file) estimates that over 19 percent of non-institutionalized American citizens aged five and older have a disability. That's about 50 million and is considered by many to be a gross underestimate, depending on definition of disability used and how inclusive the count really is.)
Currently, only about seven percent of the one million disabled in China's capital, Beijing, are employed. Other statistics are similarly grim, though the Paralympics, the Olympic event for disabled people that directly follows the Olympics themselves, is coming as part of the required commitment a host city must provide for the international sport celebration. Great hopes are pinned on all the accompanying accessibility China must create in Beijing and the lasting improvements it may provide for disabled Chinese.
Disabled children sold into slavery to become street beggars for racketeers in Beijing are a significant social problem, and the coming Beijing Olympics likely mean that one way or another these young beggars will be removed from the public eye. Thus, Wang -- able to walk and run, employed, living with her family -- is likely among the "elite" disabled in China.
Still, it's likely that for purely financial reasons (never mind the social and cultural ones), Wang could not afford to accept disability status and the accompanying pension. Or, since she's able to walk, run and work, she shouldn't qualify at all for the pension, right? But then there'd be no story or reason to publish those photos.
h/t to Ruth at Wheelie Catholic
Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog