Video of service dog crying after being denied access to public transportation leaves the Chinese internet teary-eyed

Society & Culture

Walking in Chinese cities can entail a host of problems like overcrowding, objects standing in the middle of sidewalks, and roads leading to a dead end. But people with disabilities have to deal with more than obstacles that stem from urban planning failures. They must also contend with issues that are specific to their community, such as regular denial of access to public transportation and verbal insults from fellow passengers.

Walking in Chinese cities can entail a host of problems like overcrowding, objects standing in the middle of sidewalks, and roads leading to a dead end.

But people with disabilities have to deal with more than obstacles that stem from urban planning failures. They must also contend with issues that are specific to their community, such as regular denial of access to public transportation and verbal insults from fellow passengers.

Earlier this week, these unique challenges faced by disabled people in China were brought to the forefront of public discussions after a heart-wrenching video featuring a tearful service dog gained strong traction on Chinese social media.

The video (in Chinese) was posted to Weibo on April 27 by a government employee working for the public security bureau in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province. It shows her pretending to be blind and trying to get on a bus with a guide dog she borrowed from a visually impaired friend. In the clip, when the woman boards the vehicle, the bus driver immediately rises from his seat and scolds her to get off. After she explains that the dog is not “just a pet” and offers to show its certificate, the driver still refuses entry to her and the guide animal.

None of the passengers on the bus comes to the woman’s aid. Some of them can even be heard cursing at the woman, asking her to stop “making a scene” so that the bus can move. Toward the end of the video, after the woman gets off the bus, the service dog lies on the ground and cries.

The entire video, especially the moment when the dog tears up, has left many people swooning over it online. It also has drawn a storm of outrage: “I feel deeply sorry for what happened to this lady and the dog. They deserve so much better than what they went through,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).

In response to the controversy, the bus company operating the vehicle said (in Chinese) on Tuesday that it would punish the bus driver for his violation of municipal regulations, which stipulate that while animals are not permitted to ride buses, guide dogs are an exception. The company also vowed to host training sessions to educate its employees about relevant rules regarding service animals.

When speaking to The Paper (in Chinese), the woman in the video, who called herself Lì Jiě 莉姐, explained that she conducted the social experiment with help from the service dog’s owner, Gāo Zhìpéng 高志鹏, who is completely blind. The dog has been with her for more than seven years. According to Gao, Li’s experience is a regular occurrence for him. “Almost every time I plan to take a bus ride, I need to be emotionally prepared for potential discrimination,” Gao said. “My guide dog can be very emotional sometimes. When I get insulted when going out, he will be upset for a few days.”

In the interview, Li said that she documented her experience in the hopes of raising the public’s awareness about the unique and special needs of people with disabilities. Li noted that the thought of the social experiment struck her when she noticed that the problem of pavement parking came back as the city slowly returned to normalcy in the wake of the containment of the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Weibo, Li’s message has struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of people who called for Chinese cities to create a more accessible and inclusive environment for disabled people. “We don’t see a lot of visually impaired people on the streets. Not because they don’t exist, but because they are afraid of going out. Accessibility problems need to be addressed!” a Weibo user commented (in Chinese).