RI’s illuminating torch handed to China

2 June 2023

By Wang Yanfang

Intro: The relay race to build a beautiful life for one billion people with disabilities in the world continues, and China is going to accompany Rehabilitation International moving forward.  

Zhang Haidi (third from left), president of Rehabilitation International (RI) and chairperson of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), together with four other RI executive committee members, issues the landmark Beijing Declaration at the opening ceremony of the RI Centennial Celebration. [RI]

In 1922, Edgar Allen, a businessman born in Newton, Mass., the US, founded the International Society for Crippled Children, out of which Rehabilitation International (RI) grew. Over the course of the past century, the RI has been telling a story of protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities and promoting the all-around development of the international disability cause.

Zhang Haidi, president of RI and chairperson of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF), expressed at the May 21 RI Centennial Celebration in Beijing, that over the past century, RI has been calling for protection of human health, life’s integrality, and the rights of individuals with disabilities, making contributions to promote inclusive disability development in the world and playing important role in advancing the inclusive development and equal engagement of people with disabilities.

Looking to the future, RI urges societies, countries, and regions globally to respect human diversity and rights, endorse the equal participation of people with disabilities in world affairs, and advance comprehensive development to create a society characterized by peace, inclusiveness, and goodwill. Additionally, the declaration symbolizes holding the humanitarian torch at this historic juncture to illuminate the path of inclusive development for people with disabilities.

Zhang was elected as RI’s president in 2014 after gaining an overwhelming majority of votes, making her RI’s second female president and the first from a developing country.

Jan Monsbakken, the former RI president, said that Zhang’s election was an important moment for the RI and also for the whole rehabilitation and disability community.

Zhang made the commitment at that time that China’s experience of disability development would be shared with the world to help people with disabilities, especially those in developing countries, receive better rehabilitation services.

Under Zhang’s leadership, RI has experienced sustained growth through proactive and pragmatic cooperation. It has promoted research and development exchanges and strengthened its internal structure. Funds such as the Global Disability Development Fund and the Africa Fund have been established, making significant contributions to the cause of helping people with disabilities in developing countries, especially in Africa. Assistance projects supported by these two funds stretch across five continents.

In 2018, Zhang was re-elected as the president of RI with an overwhelming majority for a four-year term beginning in 2020. Her efforts have been lauded for stepping up reform measures as a clear priority for RI, whose members have full confidence in the future development of the organization.

Zhang believes the international community should not only make more effort to eliminate discrimination and prejudice against people with disabilities, but also special attention should be given to the survival and development of women and children with disabilities. With support from the Chinese government and the CDPF, RI actively engages in international exchange and cooperation to share innovative approaches to promoting the protection of the rights of women and girls with disabilities.

The Awards for Outstanding Achievements were established in 2019 following a proposal by Zhang to honor individuals and organizations that have significantly contributed to protecting the rights and inclusive development of individuals with disabilities.

Zhang noted that maybe they were largely unknown to the public, but what they have done has already changed the world. As a global awards program related to disabilities and rehabilitation, it will be inherited forever to transmit the ideology of love and peace.

In May 2023, when China organized the RI Centennial Celebration, the Centennial Awards for Significant Contributions were introduced to recognize 100 representative individuals and organizations for their contributions toward rehabilitation and development. The next centennial strategic plan has been made, and the landmark Beijing Declaration was issued by Zhang and four other RI executive committee members to inspire more contributions to the disability cause.

Since Zhang was elected president, she and her Chinese experiences and Chinese wisdom have given full play to the RI’s role and influence as an international non-governmental organization. Moreover, it has engaged itself more in international disability exchange and cooperation. Prints of Eastern cultural elements such as benevolence, gentleness, and providing for the elderly, widowers, widows, orphans, the childless, and people with disabilities have been like a jewel on the crown of RI’s century-long history.

The relay race builds a beautiful life for one billion people with disabilities in the world still continues, and China is going to accompany RI moving forward.   

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