In November 2014 China Vision’s main DPO partner, Beijing One Plus One, initiated China’s first “Disability Voice Month”, an opportunity for disabled people around the country to organise local events and express their ideas, concerns and hopes. This has now become an annual event, with dozens of DPOs and disability-related organizations spontaneously organizing workshops, seminars, sporting events and other activities under the slogan “Disability Voice Month, We Are Speaking Up for People with Disabilities” (“残障发声月，我们为残障发声！“).
This year events have already been taking place in Beijing, Shanghai, Changchun, Changsha, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, Hefei, Xuzhou and Yichun. Over the last few days I have taken part in two events: the inauguration of China’s first independent Disability Law Research Centre in Shanghai; and “I Want to Speak” (“我想说”), a workshop on Disability Rights and the CRPD held by a DPO in Yichun, Jiangxi Province.
Shanghai Zhijun Public Interest and Law Research Centre has recently been set up by Fu Zhijun, a scholar and disabled self-advocate who has recently returned to Shanghai after completing an LLM at the National University of Ireland, Galway. The purpose of the Centre is “to conduct research on disability laws, policies and undertakings”. The Centre is committed to “the dissemination of disability knowledge, promotion of disability awareness, support of disability inclusion into mainstream society and sustainable development in disability affairs”. The event was attended by eminent academics from China and overseas, including Prof Lu Zhi’an (Deputy Director of the Education Ministry’s Human Rights Education Base, Fudan University Law School) and Prof Gerard Quinn (Director of the Centre for Disability Law and Policy, NUI Galway), officials of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation and members of local DPOs. In my own presentation I spoke about the growth of DPOs in China and the essential role that disabled self-advocates play in monitoring implementation of the CRPD. Reflecting on the significance of Fu Zhijun’s new initiative, I discussed the vital role that disabled scholars play in the development of a disability movement and the urgent need in China for more disability-led research to guide and inform the community and policy-makers. Congratulations to Fu Zhijun and his colleagues on this exciting new enterprise!
One impressive feature of both the event in Shanghai and the workshop in Yichun was the role of local volunteers. Volunteering in China has become a major force to be reckoned with. In Yichun (a “small” city of early a million people) a local DPO, Yichun Yi Jia Yi Disabled People’s Concern Association (宜春衣加衣爱心会）came together with the Disabled Person’s Federation, the business community and local volunteer groups, to organise the district’s first disability rights workshop. I was invited to lead the event and was accompanied by our colleagues Jin Xi, China’s first qualified blind lawyer. The event was attended by around 40 people with disabilities from the district. Many had travelled long distances in driving rain. While speaking about the CRPD I did a quick survey and discovered that less than 5% of attendees had ever heard of the UN Convention. Most of the concepts we introduced were new to the participants and the ideas and case-studies we presented inspired lively discussion. Many participants spoke of the deep prejudice and discrimination they had experienced. But the enthusiastic support of over 20 volunteers, who had given up their Saturday to ferry people from home and assist with the arrangements, gave us a real sense of hope. The volunteers were also active in the discussions and many said they had learnt a lot from the event. Bao Honggui, the local DPO organiser (who lives with restricted growth) has done a fantastic job of galvanising the community. I hope this injection of new ideas can help him and his colleagues with their important work.
Two events, one in metropolitan Shanghai, the other in small town Jiangxi – just a snapshot of some of the amazing things that are happening during Disability Voice Month 2016. For me this was the best antidote to the gloom and doom of this age of Trumpism!
Stephen Hallett, Chair, China Vision