Laws, regulations and legal assistance safeguard the rights of people with disabilities

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A teacher at a welfare house in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, plays with a child on May 8. Most residents in the facility are children with disabilities. [Photo/Xinhua]

As a public interest lawyer serving the community, Ouyang Jihua, Executive Director of the Zhongtong Law Firm in Beijing, provides legal advice at local communities once a week. Recently, a man came to see him about his unfair termination at work. The man, who was not named, had had an accident at work and was left disabled, according to Beijing-based Legal Daily. The company he worked for refused to pay him any compensation and fired him. The lawyer helped him win his rights.

Ouyang, who often goes to the homes of people with disabilities to provide legal advice, said labor, divorce, consumption and inheritance disputes are some of the most frequently encountered problems for the disabled. It is estimated that there are more than 85 million people with disabilities in China, accounting for over 6 percent of the population. Safeguarding their rights has become a focus of the government.

Legal protection

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the implementation of the Law on the Protection of Persons With Disabilities, which ensures equal rights for people with disabilities in political, economic, cultural, social and family affairs. It also protects the civil rights and dignity of people with disabilities and prohibits discrimination against them or humiliation or abuse.

The law was amended in 2008 to stress rehabilitation services, equal rights to education, work and participation in social life, as well as social security benefits.

The third Sunday in May is observed as National Disability Day. This year, it was celebrated on May 16 with a special theme, Consolidating Poverty Alleviation Results for People With Disabilities and Improving Their Quality of Life.

Zhou Jian, Director of the Rights Protection Department of the China Disabled Persons' Federation (CDPF), told Beijing Review that over the past three decades, a complete legal system has been formed, guaranteeing the economic, political, cultural and social rights of people with disabilities. The Law on the Protection of Persons With Disabilities is complemented by regulations on rehabilitation, education and employment. Many lawyers have been providing legal services for people with disabilities and carrying out legal education among the group.

During the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) period, the CDPF stepped up legal assistance to people with disabilities, working with courts, procuratorates, public security and judicial departments to build over 2,000 legal assistance stations for people with disabilities across the country. It also runs the chain of Sweet Home for People with Disabilities, a service center assisting in finding jobs, rehabilitation and education for people with disabilities. There are over 500 such centers in Beijing.

The Civil Code passed in May 2020 has over 30 provisions on the protection of the rights and interests of people with disabilities, showing a people-centered approach to legislation. They include specifying family members' responsibilities to raise and support those who can't live independently or are unable to work. An important provision is easing restrictions for adopting minors with disabilities so that more of them can enjoy a family life.

In October 2019, the Ministry of Justice published a guideline, encouraging lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to special groups such as people with disabilities, migrant workers, senior citizens, women and minors. Lawyers in China have been exploring ways to better serve those with disabilities.

Communicating the best way

Tang Shuai, a lawyer with the Chongqing Huadai Law Firm in Chongqing Municipality, is a sign language communicator. For people with hearing and speech disabilities, the sign language is an effective means of communication.

Tang talked to Legal Daily about a case in Wuhan, Hubei Province, where a person with hearing and speech disabilities was sentenced to five years in prison for theft. While representing the defendant in the second-instance trial, Tang viewed the video of the first-instance trial and found that the statements given by the defendant in sign language had been wrongly interpreted. He translated them for the court and the procuratorate once again and subsequently, the prison term was reduced to two years.

Tang said while there are over 20 million people with hearing and speech disabilities in China, however, there are very few lawyers who can use sign language. From 2017, he started to teach it to other lawyers in his firm, but after half a year, he found it to be a tough job.

"Sign language is like a foreign language. It's hard for people without hearing and speech disabilities to master its grammar," he said. On the other hand, he found there are few people with hearing and speech disabilities majoring in law in universities in China.

Tang's suggestion is training more procurators, judges and lawyers in sign language as well as improving the legal awareness of people with disabilities so that they know the law, obey the law, and address problems through legal means.

In spite of the difficulties, there are people with disabilities who have become lawyers through sheer hard work to serve their peers. Yang Doudou is one of them. She lost the use of her right hand following an accident at work and has struggled with difficulties ever since. However, this made her all the more determined to become a lawyer and help other people with disabilities.

In 2010, she passed the judicial exam and became a lawyer with the Fazhongyuan Law Firm in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. Over the past decade, she has led a team of lawyers to provide legal assistance to people with disabilities and resolved hundreds of disputes through mediation.

In Tianjin, Wang Hui, a visually impaired intern lawyer at a law firm, is disseminating legal knowledge among people with disabilities to improve their legal awareness. "Many people with disabilities want to know the law but few are ready to teach them. I want to clear the obstacles for visually impaired people to obtain information," Wang told Legal Daily.

Ensuring equal access and opportunity for the disabled, however, still has a long way to go. Two years ago, Zheng Rongquan, who is visually impaired, was rejected for a job at a school for the blind in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. The news hit the headlines and social media, especially as Zhang was the first student in his province to take the college entrance examination using Braille. Last year, according to the Ministry of Education (MOE) data, only five students took the tough exam using Braille, a minuscule number even though Braille test papers were introduced in 2014.

Recently, Zou Mi, an English teacher with a training institution in Chongqing, triggered uproar on social media for not being able to get her teacher's certificate. She had passed the written exams and interviews, but failed the physical exam as she is a paraplegic following a traffic accident in 2000.

Zou needs the certificate because the State Council issued a guideline for extracurricular training institutions in 2018, making it mandatory for teachers of certain subjects to hold the certificate. If she can't get the document, she may lose her job.

Zou's case has caught the attention of the CDPF. Zhou told the media on May 1 that the organization is negotiating with the authorities in Chongqing. It is also coordinating with the MOE to modify the regulation on the teacher's certificate to accommodate people with disabilities.

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