Authorities are ramping up training for rehabilitation therapists and accessibility aid engineers to address talent shortfalls, a senior official said on Thursday.
The coverage of basic rehabilitation therapies or training among registered disabled people reached 80 percent by the end of last year, up from 65.6 percent five years ago, said Zhang Haidi, deputy director of the State Council's Disabled Person Work Committee and president of the China Disabled Persons' Federation.
"Many places have built their own rehabilitation facilities but face a shortage of talent," Zhang told a news conference held by the State Council Information Office in Beijing.
She said many disabled people in rural areas still had limited access to such services and some were still using prosthetic legs they had made themselves out of wood.
Zhang said access to affordable therapies and devices is central to disabled people's emancipation and ranks among their most urgent needs.
To bridge the gap, the federation proposed in 2015 the building of a University of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in Qingdao, Shandong province, which Zhang said will be world's only university focused on the rehabilitation of disabled people. Its construction will be completed this year.
"The university will specialize in training therapists and device engineers," she said. "It will surely provide better service for the 44 million elderly people who have varying degrees of disability."
Figures from the federation show that China has an estimated 85 million disabled people, with 35.66 million registered with authorities by the end of 2019.
In 2004, the Ministry of Civil Affairs launched a program that uses money from the government-run welfare lottery to fund surgeries for disabled orphans and other vulnerable children.
Zhan Chengfu, vice-minister of civil affairs, said the program has received 170 million yuan ($26.3 million) in funding and has helped 223,000 children pay for surgery or rehabilitation.
He said it also helped roll out a program that lends out wheelchairs and other accessibility aids in 25 cities. The number of beneficiaries has exceeded 160,000.
The ministry has also overseen the creation of a number of industrial parks that specialize in manufacturing accessibility aids, Zhan added.
During the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period, China ended absolute poverty, which was particularly rampant among the disabled.
Zhang said 7.1 million people with disabilities escaped poverty during the period, 11.8 million were given low-income allowances, and more than 26 million received subsides. The proportion of disabled children receiving nine years of compulsory education reached 95 percent.