On her graduation day from the prestigious Kennedy School at Harvard, Yang Jia’s dean called her “China’s soft power.” A decade later, Yang, 49, has probably become more than that – in a country which has the largest population of the disabled in the world, visually impaired Yang is now their symbol of hope. (According to a 2010 state media report, more than 83 million people live with disabilities in China.)
At Harvard, she was the first blind student to get a master’s degree in Public Administration. That was just the beginning; she now teaches the course “Art of Communication” in English at the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences and is an active member of the top political advisory body of the country, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, currently in session in Beijing; she’s is a member of the Jiu San Society, one among China’s eight non-communist parties.
Yang met reporters on the sidelines of the annual session; foreign reporters were not allowed access to the interview.
"China is very important because it has the world's largest disabled population. If the well-being of the Chinese disabled improves, the well-being of people with disabilities across the world will see a considerable improvement," Yang told the state-run Xinhua news agency about the varied work she was doing.
Her retinas began to degenerate when she was already teaching. But even after losing vision and facing problems in personal life, Yang continued to shine in academics.
According to Xinhua, in her years as CPPCC member, Yang has submitted dozens of proposals as a political advisor, concerning the rights and welfare of the disabled, including one pushing the government to set up a research institute on technologies that improve the lives of the disabled.
In November 2008, she took on a bigger challenge, competing for and then winning election as a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), a new UN agency.
Her classes at the Academy are very popular as she is known to give practical advice to the scientists on how to communicate to the world.
"I don't want people to be distracted from what I'm doing by (because of) my eye problems," Yang said. With her achievements, that is possibly the exact message she has to deliver to the world – people living with disabilities are as good as, and sometimes better than, the rest.