CHANGSHA, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Having worked closely with a job coach for over two years, 21-year-old Junjun (not his real name) in the city of Zhuzhou, central China's Hunan Province, has eased into the position of assistant teacher at a rehab center for local children.
His work includes packing and organizing teaching aids, looking after children during classes, and using courseware to assist music teachers. However, even such simple tasks could be challenging for Junjun, as he was born with Down syndrome.
Despite the challenges, this young man has developed a regular workday routine, catching a bus to the center at around 8 a.m. and spending a busy day there.
"My son is well received by parents at the center," said Junjun's mother. "He even knows how to cook and dinner is often ready when I return home from work.
"His ability and desire to live independently are getting stronger as he learns more skills such as taking public transport, cooking and doing housework," the mother said.
If taught with patience and treated equally, people with Down syndrome have great potential and can be very capable, she added.
China has between 12 million to 20 million people diagnosed with intellectual disabilities, some of them suffering from Down syndrome.
Thanks to the continuous efforts by local governments and social assistance, the population is gaining growing recognition in the job market.
Xu Tianxi, head of the special education department at Central China Normal University, said that people with Down syndrome are usually active and outgoing but are often misunderstood during interactions because of their limited cognitive and expressive abilities.
However, they have many strengths, talents and abilities that are often overlooked, Xu added.
To cope with the challenges, in 2014, the disabled people's federation of Hunan, among the first in China, introduced a pilot plan of supported employment for people with intellectual disabilities. Based on the government purchase of services, a relevant working system was established.
In 2016, the province also carried out supported employment programs to provide vocational rehabilitation for people with mental and physical illnesses, helping them obtain competitive skills in the market.
Both special education and vocational education have helped the intellectually disabled group to become self-supporting and integrate into society.
At Changsha Special Education School in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, one of the oldest special education schools in China, vocational education is expanding to include more courses, such as cooking and car washing, aiming to cultivate the work ethic and professional skills of students.
Non-governmental organizations are also helping. Founded in 2014, the Changsha Yuelu District Down Syndrome Support Center has been exploring various approaches to help people with Down Syndrome secure jobs.
"Cleaning and housekeeping skills are something people with Down syndrome can easily master after training," said Xing Yuanyuan, a member of staff at the organization.
"They would often be considered incompetent at first because they might be unable to handle certain problems in the new environment," Xing said, adding that the most important duty of an employment counselor is to accompany them during the early stages of their induction and help them communicate with employers and colleagues to establish a more inclusive environment.
"To understand supported employment, it is like setting up a ramp for people in wheelchairs so that can get up the stairs and go wherever they want," Xu said.
With supporting policies and efforts in place, more local companies such as supermarkets have begun to offer jobs for people with disabilities and pay them equally.
"A good life depends on our own efforts, and my job has helped me gain more confidence and courage to embrace the future," said Tang Shiyang, a 24-year-old girl with Down syndrome who works at a clothing factory in Changsha. ■