Disabled people in China are receiving legal help thanks in part to Harvard Law School Professor William Alford ’77. Alford traveled to Beijing last month to participate in the first conference on law and disability in China, and to open the first legal center for disabled people.

“It was a wonderful occasion culminating years of hard and inspired work on the part of many people,” said Alford. “I was especially proud that so many individuals first brought together through Harvard Law School played a central role in making this possible.”

The East Asian Legal Studies Program at HLS, which is directed by Alford, joined with Renmin University of China, the China Disabled Persons Federation, and the Ford Foundation to hold the conference. Scholars from China and abroad who focus on relevant fields of study attended.

Senior officials from the Chinese government and key figures from the Disabled Persons Federation who are charged with revising China’s national law on disability also participated. Foreign legal experts led by Alford described various foreign models of providing legal protection, which will eventually inform the adaptation of new legal standards in China.

Renmin University used the occasion of the conference to open China’s first center devoted to issues of disability and the law. The center will serve as a think tank and provide legal aid to a large population of disabled people in China. Estimates of disabled persons in China run from 80 to more than 130 million, and it is estimated that over 12 million disabled people live in poverty.

Alford, who is vice dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies, anticipates the cooperation between Harvard, the new Renmin University Center, and other relevant Chinese actors continuing into the future. The partnership may lead to several exciting opportunities, including student pro bono placements, collaborative research, and further conferences.

Several of the conference participants are affiliated with HLS, including former visiting scholars Wang Liming, dean of Renmin University’s Law School, and Xin Chunying, leader of the Law Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. HLS graduates Titi Liu ’97 of the Ford Foundation, Professor Michael Stein ’88 of William & Mary, and Professor Gerard Quinn S.J.D. ’86 of the National University of Galway, Ireland, also participated in the conference.