Thursday, June 28, 2012

Negotiating Disability Law in China


Of the many issues on the forefront of the development of civil rights in the People’s Republic of China today, the advancement of the rights of disabled persons offers great promise as well as many challenges. This past May, when most 3L’s were busy celebrating the end of their three-year law school odyssey, graduating students Ashley Nyquist ’12 and Jake Lee ’12, along with Lecturer on Law and Clinical Instructor Jeremy McClane ’02, travelled to Beijing to present a negotiation and consensus building curriculum to over fifty representatives of Disabled Persons Organizations (DPO)—NGOs dedicated to promoting the rights of disabled person in China. The curriculum was targeted to help DPOs address the challenges they face as they pursue their goal of a more equitable society. The program was a Spring 2012 HNMCP project that was co-sponsored with Renmin University of China School of Law, Harvard Law School’s Program on Disability, and the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative. The training was held over the course of two days at Renmin Law School and coordinated by HNMCP alumnus Alonzo Emery  ’10, who is now a professor at Renmin.

Prior to the formal program, the team from HNMCP spent a week meeting with the various DPOs at their offices and learning about the challenges that each of them faces in advocating their agendas both with the government and among their fellow NGOs. The team from HNMCP had worked during the spring semester developing the curriculum, and spent the final week in Beijing honing and refining the training modules to better suit the needs of the participants. The reaction was enormously positive. Participants felt they gained a new perspective on the issues they face, and learned new strategies and approaches to managing their negotiations. A number of participants remarked that using simulations to teach was still relatively unknown in China and that they found it both effective and interesting.

In reflecting on the program, Professor Emery remarked, “[n]ever before have I received so many follow-on expressions of gratitude for not just the organization of a training, but, importantly, for inviting trainers who shared immediately transferable and useful skills.  Reflecting on the joint efforts of students and faculty from Renmin and Harvard, one participant summed-up his experience in a letter to me, ‘because of people like you, we have reason to believe that humanity carries even greater hope and possibility for improvement.’ The thoughtful work of HNMCP will have a lasting impact on the lives of the training’s attendees and, by extension, the millions of citizens with disabilities they represent.”

The students found this to be an extremely rewarding experience, even though it extended their semester by several weeks. Nyquist stated that she felt very lucky to have worked on the project. “I came in with interests in China and in civil rights, and this project taught me a lot about both. I saw a side of China (NGOs, and disability rights organizations in particular) that I hadn’t experienced before. I definitely have a new awareness of disability issues as well, and I’ll be following the news from China to hear about the amazing work the DPOs we met are doing.”

Nyquist also summarized some of the challenges the team faced in executing the project: “In Beijing, we were talking to a group of experienced advocates working within a challenging cultural and political system very different from our own. That was humbling.  We were fortunate though to have a terrifically patient and engaged group of participants, and connecting with those who volunteered and shared experiences was great.”

McClane felt similarly enlivened by the experience. “I was extremely impressed by the DPO members who participated in the program. Prior to coming to Beijing, I did not have an adequate appreciation for the types of challenges these groups face on a daily basis. It was inspiring to see how much these groups have managed to accomplish in the face of such difficulty. I was also very impressed with the caliber of the Renmin students who assisted us in the program. We are indebted to them, and of course to Alonzo, for making the program work. I hope that the students and DPO participants alike are able to build upon the groundwork from this program to develop better ways to navigate their challenges and reach their goals going forward.”