Traveling in China as a Wheelchair User
Those who need a wheelchair to get around should not be put off from visiting China. However, please note that accessibility does not receive the same level of priority that it may in the country you come from.
Thanks to the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, some attractions have been renovated to be accessible to some degree for wheelchair users. In addition, accessibility has been receiving more attention in the renovation and construction of tourist sites, infrastructure, transportation, hotels, etc. since 2008. Even so, China is still far from wheelchair friendly, even in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. If you are planning to travel to China, especially on your own, be prepared to face some limitations, but with some patience you should be able to do most things.
Below, you will find a brief travel guide with information and tips for wheelchair users who are planning to travel to China.
The Great Wall is a must see for any visitor to China. However, the Great Wall was deliberately built on steep, mountainous terrain to resist enemy attacks in ancient times. Today, as a result, visitors need to climb a lot of steps to access and explore the Great Wall, which presents a huge challenge for those with mobility issues.
If you are able to walk a little, you can go to Mutianyu Great Wall and take the cable car up to the base of the Great Wall. Once you get off the cable car, you will need to walk a little and climb some steps to get onto the Wall. However, you will not be able to travel far on the Wall before encountering some steep steps.
If you require a wheelchair at all times, the best option is to visit Badaling Great Wall, which features ramps and lifts that allow visitors in wheelchairs to get onto the Wall and travel a small distance on the Wall.
Juyongguan Great Wall is also a good choice for wheelchair users, since you will be driven to the parking lot right beneath Juyong Pass and the Wall, and you can appreciate the impressive scenery of the Wall from below. But you cannot get onto the Wall itself, since there are many steps leading up to it.
Other major attractions in big cities, like Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace in Beijing, as well as the Terracotta Army in Xi'an, are usually wheelchair accessible to some degree. You may not be able to tour every part of these sites, but you will have access to the most important parts of the attractions by wheelchair.
You can find wheelchair accessible public restrooms at major attractions in big cities, like the Badaling, Juyongguan, or Mutianyu sections of the Great Wall; the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace in Beijing; and the Terracotta Army in Xi'an. There are also some wheelchair friendly public toilets along the streets in big cities, but not all of them are. There is usually a sign outside if a public toilet is wheelchair accessible. Restrooms in airports throughout China are usually wheelchair accessible as well.
Hotels & Restaurants
In China, 4- or 5-star hotels may have some rooms that are accessible to wheelchair users, but they may not meet the standards of Western countries. Be sure to check with the hotel staff concerning their handicap accessible rooms before booking.
Restaurants are usually easy to access for wheelchair users, although you may sometimes need others’ help if there are steps at the entrance. Restrooms in restaurants, however, are usually not wheelchair accessible.
Subways can be found in many Chinese cities. Because most subway lines were built in recent years, this is by far the most wheelchair friendly form of public transportation in China. With new lines, there are usually elevators that can transport you directly to/from the subway platform. Be sure to ask the staff or pay attention to signs (most of which are in English) to determine which exits are equipped with elevators, since not all exits have them. Some older lines, like lines 1 and 2 in Beijing, may not have a vertical elevator at most stations, but stair chairs are available upon request. Be sure to ask the station staff whenever you are not sure or need help.
All subway trains have adequate space for wheelchairs. Take care when boarding the train, however, as not all trains are level with the platform; entering the train should be manageable with the help of the staff.
Using public buses may be difficult for wheelchair users. In big cities, some buses may have a special seating area for wheelchair users, but few buses are equipped with an automatic lift and many have high steps or narrow doors. It is better for wheelchair used to avoid the public bus when traveling in China.
While wheelchair accessible taxis were made available in Beijing in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games, these vehicles are rarely seen and are often unavailable. You can take normal taxis, but you may need assistance getting in/out of the car.
In China, most cities are connected by bullet train, making this a convenient way to travel between cities. The stations for the high-speed railway are all newly constructed with accessibility needs considered. The bullet trains usually level with the platform, and there is ample space for wheelchairs inside the trains themselves. Some newer bullet trains are also equipped with wheelchair accessible restrooms. Normal trains and older railway stations are also accessible to some degree, but you may need assistance from the station staff.
Disabled people are able to board the train before others in China. Be sure to ask the staff if you are not sure where to wait.
When taking a domestic flight in China, wheelchair users need to apply for a wheelchair cabin seat (WCHC) at least 72 hours before departure. When applying, you need to provide proof that you must use a wheelchair when taking a plane for health or mobility reasons. Your personal wheelchair will need to be checked in as luggage. You can check in your wheelchair for free. Staff will use an airport wheelchair to transfer you to your seat in the cabin and, when getting off, to transport you to the luggage claim area and help you return to your own wheelchair.
If your wheelchair uses lithium-ion batteries, you will need to take the batteries with you as carry-on luggage. Each battery must be no more than 300Wh, and you are limited to two batteries maximum.
Please be aware that different airline companies or airports may have different rules or conditions, so be sure to call your airline and airports about the procedures and restrictions if you need to use a wheelchair during flight.
The China Guide Can Help
Planning a trip takes a lot of investigation and preparation, and this is especially true for wheelchair users. Adding to these challenges, due to China’s fast-changing infrastructure and other factors, it can be difficult to find or rely on information found on the internet. To make it easier, wheelchair users can let a travel agency, like The China Guide, do all the necessary research for you. We will get up-to-date information from our guides and other service providers and design an itinerary that is suitable for your mobility level.
At the China Guide, we use cars or vans that can fit a wheelchair (without automatic lift, but your guide and driver will help you to get in and out of the vehicle). We can also provide a wheelchair for your use while you are in China.
During the trip, your guide will help you move around, find accessible restrooms, and provide any other assistance required to ensure a hassle-free experience during your trip to China.