The Sino connection, Part I 

Access all areas: Tourism for all

click to enlarge While A Huge effort was made to get Beijing accessible for the Paralympics, ancient paving stones and stairs kept wheelchairs out of some attractions. Whistler's Brad Lennea (above) had a hard time navigating the hutongs in old Beijing and the Forbidden City.
  • While A Huge effort was made to get Beijing accessible for the Paralympics, ancient paving stones and stairs kept wheelchairs out of some attractions. Whistler's Brad Lennea (above) had a hard time navigating the hutongs in old Beijing and the Forbidden City.

A Transpacific Harmony Trade

Liu Qing is an agent of style. Just look at her skirt, that fabric waterfall, colours and patterns pouring over her knees and between the red bars of her wheelchair, which happens to match her nail polish and the beaded bracelet bound subtly to her wrist. She’s an interior designer in Tianjin, a northern coastal metropolis in China, and you can almost see her wheeling through boring bedrooms, splendour in her wake.

Today, she’s in Beijing, some 120 km from home. It’s early September, still warm, and the skies are dense with haze, a coating the sun sometimes burns off with a little help from the rain. Liu has come to hear the Whistler Forum for Leadership and Dialogue as its delegates present the Harmony Project. With her are two friends, Shao Zezhang and Dai Xueyou, and, together, they make up an association of disabled entrepreneurs — just the kind of audience for which the Forum pines.

The Harmony Project is the product of one of the Forum’s leadership cohorts. Pinning itself to the lapels of the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, the project is best thought of as a feeler, a long and friendly one that aims to engage China’s disabled on notions of universal accessibility, the whole crux balanced on a mandate of inclusive tourism. There are a dozen or so presenters ready to mount the podium, speaking notes and slideshows at the ready. Subtopics range from the histories of accessibility apropos the mentally and physically disabled in China and Canada, to sound, universally-minded community planning. In less than two years, Whistler will host the winter version of these Paralympic Games, and that is enough commonality to germinate the seeds of partnership.

William Roberts is the Forum’s president. Working with the cohort, he secured two days in the B.C. Canada Pavilion, which is across from Tiananmen Square in downtown Beijing. Dressed in a tan sports blazer, his hair characteristically wavy, Roberts takes to the podium, stands before a backdrop of Canadian iconography as Liu and others don headsets through which English becomes Mandarin.

“How can we build a gateway to Asia, to China, from our community?” Roberts begins. “What is the kind of leadership required to have more communities accessible? And how can we celebrate, focus and foster that kind of leadership?

“We’re hoping, at the end of these two days, to have many more friends in China, to continue to come back here and learn from you and for you to come to Whistler and Sea to Sky in 2010 and in the future.”

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