Social Policy and Disability Symposium Welcomes International Scholars

Sophia Pirozzi
December 10, 2020

The Columbia China Center for Social Policy and Fordham Research Consortium on Disability held a multidisciplinary and international Social Policy and Disability Symposium on November 12-13, 2020.

This symposium was held over two days with each day consisting of a plenary and two parallel sessions, showcasing more than 40 scholars presenting and discussing research on how disability is considered in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social policies. Through webinars, the symposium was attended by close to 300 scholars from around the world, some of whom further interacted through a social networking app. 

The co-organizers of the symposium, Sophie Mitra, Professor of Economics and Disability Studies at Fordham University, and Qin Gao, Professor of Social Policy and Social Work at Columbia University, welcomed participants. Z. George Hong, Professor and Chief Research Officer & Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Fordham University, and Melissa D. Begg, Dean & Professor at Columbia University School of Social Work, offered opening remarks that celebrated this collaboration and affirmed the significance of social policy and disability research and action. 

Vandana Chaudhry, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work at the City University of New York – College of Staten Island, delivered the opening plenary on “Reflections on Southern Disability Frameworks.” Chaudhry pointed out that the vast majority of persons with disabilities reside in the Global South, yet disability in the Global South is often understood through “disability knowledge, policies, and best practices” of the Global North. This underscored the need for conceptions of human rights to step out of the binary disability epistemologies posed by the Global North and begin to move towards a non-dualistic communalist framework of disability that is more suited for intersectional application to the Global South. 

Following the Plenary, parallel sessions had presentations on employment policies and laws in France, China, and globally as well as on gender in Beijing, Palestine, and in the Global South more broadly. The day’s event concluded with sessions covering social protection and COVID-19, respectively. 

The second day of the symposium kicked off with sessions on long-term care and on the realities of extra costs accrued while living with a disability. A session on poverty and inequality presented results from Bangladesh, South Africa, Latin America, and globally. A session on employment shared research on Australia, China and the United States.

In the closing plenary, Jody Heymann, founding director of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center, and Distinguished Professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Geffen School of Medicine, recognized what she referred to as “the extraordinary progress made in the disability rights movement during our lifetime,” a product of the great strides made in achieving reasonable social accommodations for persons with disabilities. Her presentation focused on how to harness the momentum being made by individual countries and on a global scale in order to make transparent where discriminatory laws and practices still exist. Her research efforts have yielded the result that 120 countries still do not guarantee equal pay for persons with disabilities and 93 countries still do not guarantee reasonable accommodation at work. Heymann’s appeal for continued work and access in the field of social policy and disability reinforced the necessity and opportunity for the illuminating dialogue and inquiries from the Fordham Research Consortium on Disability to continue.

While the Social Policy and Disability was initially conceived as a face-to-face event, its online format made it possible to bring scholars from around the world to learn from each other’s work and build community. 

Columbia Affiliations
China Center for Social Policy