Disability rights campaigner Joanne O’Riordan hopes a special meeting with Chinese students could help change their state’s attitudes towards people with disabilities.
The outspoken activist said she was “humbled and honoured” that the students from Nanjing chose her as their subject for a project as part of an educational and cultural exchange programme between Ireland and China, supported by Cork city and county councils, and the Irish consulate.
Xu Chengcheng, Geng Jiamin, and Cheng Yueran, all aged 14, presented their project to judges in the Shamrock Cup, an English language competition for high school students in Shanghai and Nanjing, set up arising out of the twinning link between Cork and Shanghai.
They won a trip to Ireland and were joined by their teacher, Zhai Nannan, for the meeting with Joanne in UCC yesterday.
According to Amnesty International, the Chinese government still detains activists in psychiatric facilities. Official guidelines allow universities to deny enrollment in certain subjects to applicants with certain disabilities, and other guidelines on hiring civil servants discriminate against those with certain disabilities.
According to Amnesty’s 2016 World Report, a student was rejected by a university for his visual impairment and a man with visual impairment was rejected for a job with the local legislative office despite obtaining the highest scores in the civil service exam.
Joanne said the students she met yesterday are China’s future leaders.
“Clearly they have a different and positive attitude towards people with disabilities,” she said. “Maybe when they get home they can show their peers what they have learned about people with disabilities and make a difference to people with disabilities in Nanjing, and maybe change official and state attitudes in their country.”
Joanne, who was born without arms or legs, is due to start her final year of her criminology degree in UCC early next month.
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