Disability Rights

Hi from Beijing!

Please forgive my delayed post. I have been quite busy preparing for a disability rights training that Zhicheng held on July 7th. It was an interesting experience in which I learned about disability-related laws in a variety of jurisdictions including China and Australia.

The talk was delivered by Harbin Zhou of the International Labor Organization, ILO, which does a lot of great work in China. According to Mr. Zhou, the ILO’s current focus is providing job coaches to disabled adults in China. The goal, according to Zhou, is to encourage more businesses to hire individuals with disabilities.

Under the existing tax law, Chinese businesses are given quotas for the number of disabled individuals they must hire. Zhou explained that many Chinese businesses do not comply with the quota requirement. A similar law exists in Australia. Interestingly, there is no quota system in the United States.

During the session we discussed the benefits and detriments of a quota system. It certainly benefits the employment prospects of disabled individuals, who otherwise might not obtain employment. On the other hand, some opponents of the quota approach argue that it creates the perception that individuals with disabilities are helpless. Indeed, opponents argue that forcing employers to hire individuals because they have disabilities might force employers to question the ability level of an individual with a disability. This is problematic because the contemporary disability rights movement aims to emphasize the opposite; organizations such as the International Labor Organization believe that individuals with disabilities should be judged as individuals and not according to their limitations.

The above discussion of quotas and affirmative action was thrilling for me. Regardless of your opinion regarding affirmative action policies, such a discussion certainly strikes at the heart of contemporary discussions of disability rights. Do the disabled need additional help to find a job? At what level should they be compensated for their work? How can employers provide meaningful work experiences for individuals with disabilities?

I hope that these questions provide you something to chew on. Please feel free to email me with your thoughts.