HKS' Alumna Achievement Award Winner: Blind, But Can See Discrimination

March 8, 2012

Jia Yang MC/MPA 2001 may be blind, but her dreams of building a better world are vivid.

Yang, the recipient of Harvard Kennedy School's 2011 Alumna Achievement Award, is a professor at the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (GUCAS) and vice chairman of UN Enable, which works to promote the full participation and inclusion of disabled people in society.

As an exceptional representative of women with disabilities, Yang has long been engaged in promoting and protecting the rights and interests of persons with disabilities. Since becoming blind at the age of 29, she has worked as research director and professor in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has been a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and has held leadership roles with the Chinese Society of the Blind and the National Library of China as well as the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

She made significant contributions to the Beijing Olympics and Para-Olympic Games, advocated for and supervised the development of 300 homes for persons with disabilities in Beijing, was instrumental in the creation of the Chinese Digital Library for the Blind, and has pushed for a service network for people with disabilities.

In addition to being an advocate for the rights of disabled people, Yang also calls for greater awareness regarding discrimination against women. She believes that women should retire at the same age as men, be relieved of their family burdens through the establishment of nursing homes for infants, and be protected from discrimination in the job market.

"I felt that sometimes, the employers judge their applicants, especially women, simply by their looks. This is a very serious form of discrimination," Yang told China.org. "The soft power of women is a crucial aspect of a country's soft power. Actually, compared with men, women are a truer embodiment of the meaning of soft power. China could well realize its true prosperity once its women are fully liberated." 

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Pictured are: David Ellwood, Yang Jia and Kate Mullally

(From L to R) Dean David Ellwood, Jia Yang MC/MPA 2001 and Kate Mullally MC/MPA 1998, HKS Alumni Board Member.

Photo Credit: Martha Stewart

"China could well realize its true prosperity once its women are fully liberated," said Yang.

Yang Jia behind a podium