Post Date: March 29, 2004

Showing that pro bono work knows no national boundaries, Harvard Law School Professor Bill Alford is engaged in the development of the Special Olympics movement in China. Recently, this work took Alford to Beijing, where, with Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and CEO Tim Shriver, he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss ways to enhance opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities in the world’s most populous nation. That meeting was followed by the signing of an agreement to hold the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai.

The 2007 Summer Games are slated to bring over 7,000 athletes and thousands of coaches, parents and others from more than 150 nations to Shanghai for what will be the first Special Olympics summer games to be held in Asia and in a developing nation. The games are already serving as a major focal point for programs aimed to improve the situation of China’s disabled while helping foster civil society there. More than 300,000 Chinese athletes with intellectual disabilities now participate in Special Olympics programs, with plans to create opportunities for another 200,000 by the end of 2005, making this the largest such contingent outside the U.S. In addition to its work in athletics, the Special Olympics is also actively involved in education, health and training programs in China, including introducing into middle schools teaching materials regarding acceptance of persons with disabilities.

Alford has been involved with the Special Olympics for years, his interest having initially been sparked when he practiced law with Special Olympics Chairman emeritus Sargent Shriver in the early 1980s. The Law School’s Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies, Alford serves the Special Olympics principally regarding China, offering strategic advice, acting as a sounding board for the Special Olympics’ leadership, providing legal guidance, and helping interface between the Chinese and other Special Olympics volunteers such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. In addition, in anticipation of the 2007 games, Alford is helping think through new initiatives concerning the intellectually disabled, one of which is likely to be a project involving Chinese scholars and representatives of a major PRC social organization that will examine ways in which Chinese law addresses disability.

Alford also has brought his work on disability issues back to Harvard Law School. He has been ably assisted by students from both China and the US, and hopes this summer to place at least one with Special Olympics’ Beijing office. Along with William and Mary Professor Michael Stein, a 1988 graduate of HLS and current visiting scholar, Alford is working on a research project on comparative disability law and the treatment of the disabled in international law. Also being contemplated is a reading group for students that would examine these issues.

“This work brings together so many of my interests–including China, public service, transnational law, sports, children, education and more” said Alford. “I also cherish the opportunities it provides for me–and increasingly for other members of the HLS community–to work collaboratively with Chinese colleagues in building civil society.”