Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Blind masseurs get fashionable image

FRESH APPROACH A new center offers a trendy treat that is very popular among city-dwellers, doing away with the traditional image of shabby massage parlors

By Debby Wu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Masseur Chen Lien-tsai massages a client in the Blind Massage Health Center yesterday.

PHOTO: CHIANG YING-YING, TAIPEI TIMES

Ever since Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien (余政憲) admitted that he had received massages from two unlicensed sighted masseuses, the welfare of blind masseurs has become a topical issue.

In the past blind masseurs have been associated with dark and shabby rooms with rudimentary equipment, usually little more than a simple bed.

But now, when one walks into the Blind Massage Health Center (愛盲護康按摩館) on Minchuan East Road, it feels almost the same as walking into a posh beauty salon.

The center is run by the Cultural and Educational Foundation for the Blind (愛盲文教基金會).

A fashionable aroma permeates the air inside the center, and the relaxing light-brown color scheme is designed with a Zen minimalism calculated to attract the young urban crowd.

Three cloud-like, puffy couches in the reception area encourage visitors to relax and enjoy a good massage.

Besides traditional massages, the center also offers an oil massage, a trendy stress-relieving treat that is very popular among city-dwellers.

"When we opened our first center it did not do that well, because we mainly arranged the shop with the masseurs' convenience in mind, not that of the customers. When we realized that this caused a problem, we decided to prioritize the comfort of customers. We opened this flagship center in April, hoping to compete with the sighted masseurs for business," said Steven Chang (張捷), the center's general manager.

"Although sighted masseurs sometimes offer better facilities, their massage skills cannot compete with ours because the blind masseurs receive long-term training, usually for two years.

"We also provide customers with a complete manual massage, while the massage services in spas and beauty salons usually make use of machines."

Chang said that, unlike the traditional blind massage shops, the center does not offer home services.

"We have this beautiful center, and of course we want people to come and enjoy the nice setting and atmosphere," he said.

The center's smart appearance and the quality service seem to be getting results. Around 700 to 800 massages are performed every month, with customers spending between NT$700 and NT$1,400 for the service.

Chang said it was already difficult for the visually impaired to survive in the competitive job market, and if the government opened up the industry to sighted masseurs, the visually impaired would face a bleak future.

Article 37 of the Disabled Protection Law (身心障礙者保護法), which was passed in 1997, stipulates that only visually impaired people can legally obtain licenses to practice as masseurs. Sighted people can only practice massage as part of medical treatment.

Sighted people started campaigning for the right to work as masseurs after the scandal involving Yu.

Although Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators expressed support for sighted masseurs, they dared not talk about amending the law.

One of the center's masseurs, 45-year-old Chen Lien-tsai (陳連財), said that he was not against opening up the industry to sighted people, as long as the government keeps the interests of the visually impaired in mind.

"We even depend on others to get out of the door -- how can we protest for our rights?" Chen said.

Some lawyers and scholars have argued that reserving the massage industry for the visually impaired violates Article 15 of the Constitution, which protects the rights of all citizens to work.

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