About RI Global

Rehabilitation International is a global organization and network that empowers persons with disabilities and provides sustainable solutions toward achieving a more inclusive society for them.

RI Global at a Glance

Founded in 1922, Rehabilitation International (RI) is a worldwide organization comprised of people with disabilities, service providers, government agencies, academics, researchers and advocates working to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities. With member organizations in more than 100 countries and in all regions of the world, RI also provides a forum for the exchange of experience and information on research and practice.

RI Global's Objectives

RI and its members work to protect the rights of people with disabilities, including ensuring access to and improvement of crucial services for persons with disabilities and their families. RI also promotes collaboration among stakeholders and advocates in order to build strong policies and legislation on the international, regional and national levels.

How RI Global Works

Rehabilitation International is a democratic administration governed by an Assembly, which represents its member organizations, and an Executive Committee elected by the Assembly. Policies and activities approved by the Assembly are carried out by the Secretariat, headed by the Secretary General.

RI also holds quadrennial world congresses, regional conferences and international meetings on disability-related topics, in addition to global actions through its membership. The organization maintains commissions of specialists and experts on issues in disability, which assist in developing and expanding programming and activities in accordance with RI’s strategic goals.

RI Global's History

Rehabilitation International grew from its small town roots in the American Midwest in 1922 to an internationally prominent organization in just a few years, championed by Bell Greve, a social worker who pioneered the provision of relief and rehabilitation services to the disabled after World War I, and Dr. Henry Kessler, an orthopaedic surgeon who established the Kessler Institute in 1949 to develop a comprehensive plan of rehabilitative medicine. Since then, the RI Secretariat in New York has offered expertise and solutions aimed at giving people with disabilities the chance to lead full and productive lives. The organization has never been large. Rather, the majority of work is carried out by RI’s member organizations, with the Secretariat as its advocate at the United Nations and other global concils.

Along the way, there have been four major name changes: The International Society for Crippled Children, 1922; The International Society for the Welfare of Cripples, 1939; The International Society for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled, 1960; and Rehabilitation International, 1972. These name changes reflect changing social awareness towards disability. At present, the organization prefers to go by the abbreviation of its 1972 name (RI Global).

RI created the original International Symbol of Access in 1969. It is said to be one of the five most recognized signs in the world today.

RI members and RI leadership have been key players in various important disability-rights movements throughout history. Some notable events from the organization’s past include:

  • Petitioning the League of Nations to establish an office to oversee the collection of disability-related statistics in 1929
  • Setting down a list of policies to govern the use of the International Symbol of Access in 1978
  • Presenting the Charter for the Third Millennium (in English, Spanish, Portuguese) in 1999
  • Adopting the Beijing Declaration on the Rights of People with Disabilities in the New Millennium.
  • Overseeing the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006.