Associate Professor of Education Helen McCabe has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship that will take her to Beijing, China to study disability in a nation whose reforming economy and society have dramatically improved the quality of life for much of China’s population in the past 20 years. However, as McCabe explains, “People with disabilities have not seen proportional improvements in China. Their missing story is part of the story of China’s development, and my research aims to fill in this gap and allow the voices of disability advocates, including individuals with disabilities, to be heard.”
McCabe has been in China for the past three weeks training teachers of children with autism through The Five Project, an organization she co-founded with her sister to help people with disabilities in China. Her final week in China is focused on Fulbright-related research. She is currently meeting with disability organization leaders and disability-related researchers who will be a part of her Fulbright research, which she will continue for eight months after she returns to China in September.
Her research investigates disability in the context of civil society and social welfare organizations in China: how disability is being addressed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and in social service and social welfare efforts, and how collaboration between NGOs and disability-related state organizations impact policy. One of McCabe’s objectives of this research is to develop an understanding of how disability and related social welfare policy is made and influenced in China.
“By examining the collaboration between organizations, I hope to determine what effect civil society organizations may have on policy-making and how they affect the lives of people with disability across China,” she says.
Her research, based in Beijing, will be conducted using qualitative methodology — semi-structured interviews, document analysis, and participant observation at selected disability organizations — across a nine-month period. McCabe also plans to travel to other parts of China to conduct research directly at disability organizations that serve people in regions far from Beijing, as well as interview government leaders at the city or local level. She hopes to investigate what grassroots and other organizations are doing for individuals with disabilities in smaller, more remote areas, and how this impacts the local disability community.
“This project will provide me with current, original, research-based information that will be used in my teaching and ongoing scholarship,” says McCabe. “The findings of this research will provide insight into ways that dedicated individuals and organizations are serving people with disabilities and perhaps are influencing policy, as well as how others can help.”
Additionally, her research will allow her to further her study of education for children with autism in China, first-hand experience that she can apply to her courses at HWS.
“After all, the more one learns, the more one realizes that there is much more left to discover,” she says.
McCabe majored in East Asian Studies at Middlebury College and went to Nanjing, China in 1992 to study at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center. While there, she volunteered with a little girl with autism and became fascinated with autism and educational services for children with autism in China. For the next few years, she volunteered in China whenever possible, and ultimately earned her Ph.D. in Special Education and Comparative/International Education from Indiana University in order to focus more fully on disability, especially autism, in China.
“Meeting so many children and their families, I have realized how important it is for people to work together to learn about and then provide the most effective services,” she explains. “This volunteering background has helped me to focus my research interests, including for this Fulbright grant.”