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Paralympic Games End in Beijing


Wednesday is the last day for the Beijing Paralympics - an international sporting event showcasing the abilities of handicapped people. As the athletes prepare to pack up and return to their home countries, will there be a lasting legacy for China, which has 83 million disabled people scattered around the country? Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

At his final Beijing 2008 Paralympics news conference Wednesday, International Paralympic Committee President Philip Craven called the games "very special."

He said the 11 days of handicapped sporting excellence helped inspire and excite the world.

"There is another word that we could put before 'inspire' and 'excite,' and that's 'surprise,' " Craven said. "Normally, spectators are first of all surprised by what they see. Then, they're inspired and also excited."

Host country China easily topped the medal count, with 88 gold medals and 208, altogether. This is more than double the number of medals second place finisher Britain took home - 42 gold and 102 medals overall.

The United States was in third place, with 36 golds and 99 total medals.

The Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee's Wang Wei said the Paralympics will leave a "huge and far-reaching" legacy in China, mostly of greater goodwill towards handicapped people.

"Not only [in] the Chinese government, at all levels, but people in general, are beginning to feel more about people with disability," Wang said. "That awareness will become a concrete measure for the whole society to respect, to care, for people with disabilities."

Wang calls the Paralympics a milestone in raising awareness for disabled people in China, where the handicapped remain largely segregated in special schools and have little access to jobs and financial support.

In a recent talk with reporters in Beijing, blind Paralympic gold medalist Ping Yali says she remembers life as a disabled person was hard. She won China's first-ever Paralympic gold medal, in 1984.

Ping says, although she was a big star at the time, she would come home at night and have nothing to eat or drink and would think about committing suicide.

Her life is much better, now that she has found a livelihood. She runs a chain of massage parlors that employ blind people to work as masseurs.

Meanwhile, China continues to make improvements to help disabled people. In June, Beijing ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

One month later, a Chinese law on protecting disabled people went into effect. It calls for an ambitious plan to allow all handicapped Chinese citizens to have access to rehabilitation services by 2015.

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