Sullivan was mobbed by over 200 mostly Chinese media...he answered their questions in Mandarin
Jim Morris, THE CANADIAN PRESS
"This will be profound," Sullivan, a quadriplegic, said after being part of the Paralympic torch relay Friday. "This will be the watershed moment where people with disabilities take their place in Chinese society.
"I'm really looking forward to the reverberations from this one event as it works its way through Chinese society over the next few years."
Wang Wei, a senior official with the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, said the disabled in China still face many obstacles.
"In terms of tolerance and understanding, not everybody understands the need of people with disabilities," Wang, executive vice-president and secretary general of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, told a news conference.
"I think people need to build up the awareness . . . of what kind of help should be given."
Sullivan, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident when he was 19, was one of 10 Canadians to participate in the Paralympic torch relay. He was the second person to be handed the torch when it arrived in the Chinese capital Friday.
Thousands of people lined the route as Sullivan used a specially designed device on his wheelchair to carry the torch about 400 metres before handing it off.
The mayor did the same twirl with his chair as he did when he accepted the Olympic flag for the city of Vancouver during the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.
Vancouver will host the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.
"It was a powerful, emotional experience," Sullivan said. "This country has embraced the Paralympics and what it means for accessibility."
Afterwards Sullivan was mobbed by over 200 mostly Chinese media. He answered their questions in Mandarin.
There are an estimated 83 million disabled people in China. While Beijing has improved accessibility, many other cities still lack facilities common in Canada and the United States.
Sullivan first arrived in China last month, near the end of the Olympic Games. He has spent the last week touring around the country.
Generally he's been impressed with the accessibility he's found.
"Beijing is quite a bit ahead of the rest of the country," he said. "I did try to get into some restaurants and other commercial areas and had a bit of a problem.
"I saw more and more (that) accessibility is being considered as a real issue."
Many Chinese were surprised that man in a wheelchair could be the mayor of a large Canadian city.
"There were questions like 'is this an honour position. Were you appointed?"' Sullivan laughed. "I said no, I had to work hard for this one.
"In Vancouver we have citizens who are blind to this issue. The fact a disabled person is their mayor is not an issue."
During a visit to Beijing last summer many disabled people could be seen begging on the streets. None of those people are visible now.
One local business owner, who didn't want to be named, said a disabled person he knew was told to return to his village outside the city during the Games.
Wang said attitudes are beginning to change.
"It is a process," he said. "China is a developing country.
"With the Paralympics staged in Beijing, I think it's going to promote it in the right track for people to be more aware of people with disabilities and create a better environment for people with a disability."
Veteran wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc said shedding light on disabled issues in China is as important has improving the country's human rights record.
"China does not have a very long history of Paralympic sport or human rights for people with a disability," said the five-time Paralympian who won five gold medals in Athens. "To be here and see they are treating the Paralympic athletes the same way they treated the Olympic athletes . . . it's amazing.
"I'm very impressed right now."
Sullivan said he is overwhelmed by the excitement many Chinese show over hosting the Paralympics.
"I was very emotionally caught up by that whole thing," he said. "The entire country is right now really focused on this. I've never seen anything like it."