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Harvard Law Today interviews Professor William Alford

HPOD marks the 50th Anniversary of the Special Olympics

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Check out excerpts below from Harvard Law Today's interview with Professor William Alford or read the whole interview here.

Fifty years ago, the Special Olympics was founded as a summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities. Over the past five decades, it has grown to a global movement, working in more than 170 countries on a daily basis to empower people with intellectual disabilities through sports, education and health programs, and educate the broader public about the ways in which genuine inclusion benefits all.

In a Q&A with Harvard Law Today, Alford discusses HPOD’s connection with the Special Olympics and its impact over the past 50 years.

What is the connection of HPOD to the Special Olympics?

As we do with many organizations, we bring our comparative and international law learning, particularly in the area of disability, to bear on our public interest work. Michael Stein and Dr. Fengming Cui and I have gone several times to give talks for Special Olympics about the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or disability law issues in the U.S., China, or other countries..... And on the more playful side, in Hemingway gym a few years ago we hosted Dikembe Mutombo, Michelle Kwan, and the rest of the Special Olympics International Board playing floor hockey, with local Special Olympic athletes and Harvard men’s varsity ice hockey team.

How has Special Olympic evolved over the past 50 years and what is its impact?

It really has changed a great deal over the years. I would say Special Olympics these days rightly stresses the enormous contributions that persons with intellectual disabilities give to the rest of society. As inspiring an organization as it has been from its inception, that’s a different emphasis. Initially, the focus was more on what the rest of us could do for persons with an intellectual disability and I think we’ve been trying more of late to stress the things that we all can learn from persons with intellectual disabilities. 

How has your work with Special Olympics informed your academic work in China?

Because of the extent of things that we’re doing in China, it also gives me a kind of practical hands-on experience about Chinese institutions that I think I would  otherwise only be able to get by doing consulting for a business. I’m able to see what it means to implement something new in China, how the law in a very concrete way works in particular areas, and what it means to foster legal development. For me this is a very comfortable and exciting way to glean a lot of hands-on experience that I can bring back into the classroom. It’s not just talking about China at a remove of 6,729 miles, but it’s really dealing with concrete everyday challenges and opportunities.

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