Teacher, Blind in One Eye, Wins Labor Discrimination Case
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2017-03-29 14:49:45

A court in eastern China’s Zhejiang province has ruled in favor of a visually impaired woman who argued that she was unfairly denied a kindergarten teaching qualification due to her disability. 

On Tuesday, judges ruled that the Yiwu City education authority’s decision to refuse 42-year-old Wang a teaching certificate — after she had completed three years of remote learning and then passed the official exam last year — was unlawful. In its verdict, the court required the Yiwu education bureau to recommence Wang’s certification process, overturning the authority’s previous decision.

“All I wanted was to try my best and get the certificate — nothing else,” Wang (identified by a pseudonym to protect her career) told Sixth Tone in a phone interview. “I’m happy to receive this result now.”

Wang, who was born blind in her right eye, graduated from high school in Yiwu and worked for eight years at a private kindergarten in a village within the same city. In 2012, she enrolled in a remote learning higher education course run by Zhejiang University, and in 2015 took tests to earn an official teaching qualification, which is only available to university graduates.

However, despite passing the written test and a face-to-face interview in Yiwu last year, Wang failed the required physical examination.

“They called me at noon on July 5,” Wang told Sixth Tone. “I was informed that I had been disqualified on the grounds of my medical condition and had not been granted a certificate.”

Before turning to the district court in Yiwu, Wang appealed her case to the education bureaus of Yiwu City and Jinhua City (which administers the former) in July and September, respectively, but to no avail. Both claimed they were within their rights to refuse her the qualification. 

In China, local education authorities typically set stringent guidelines for state-mandated physical examinations as a prerequisite for employment at certain schools. In recent years, cities like Guangzhou in southern China have adapted such rules to prevent discrimination against applicants with disabilities. However, Zhejiang’s standards have not changed.

While Chinese courts regularly hear cases related to discrimination on the basis of physical ability, Wang’s case marks the first time a visually impaired plaintiff has won a lawsuit of this kind. The government usually considers people with vision impairments unfit for many jobs.

While petitioning Zhejiang’s provincial education department and provincial government to hear her case, Wang asked administrative officials two questions: “Are people who are blind in one eye disqualified from work? And if so, what is the regulation that prevents them from working?” However, the government office refused to answer her questions, saying that the information she requested was not available to the public.

Wang’s case against the two municipal education authorities was heard in November last year, and on Tuesday, Wang received notification that she had won.

There are 85 million people living with disabilities in China, according to government figures, and the nation’s current Premier Li Keqiang publicly stated that people with disabilities must be treated as equal to non-disabled peers and be free from daily discrimination. 

“This is not a singular case,” Wang Jing, who has cerebral palsy and is a member of the advocacy organization Disabled Voice, told Sixth Tone. “Most physical examinations for jobs are unfair to the disabled. This win should alert the public to other physical examinations for jobs that are unfair.”

In August last year, a visually impaired candidate was rejected from a government job in central China’s Hunan province. Meanwhile, in Tongling City in eastern China’s Anhui province, a certified accountant with a form of cerebral palsy struggled to find work and was forced to take a minimum-wage job at a metals factory. In Shenzhen, southern China’s Guangdong province, blind migrants cannot become official residents.

Editor: Sarah O’Meara.

(Header image: VCG)