RI has been a major force in international rehabilitation and disability advocacy from the day of its founding. It was established—and today remains—a unique organization—the only global disability NGO this is both cross-disability and cross-disciplinary. As such, over the years, it has provided a unique meeting ground for participants in a field that is cross-cut by numerous disciplinary, ideological, and political divides
At all levels, RI members and RI leadership have been key players. From advocating to bring services and facilities to disabled children in 1922 or petitioning the League of Nations to establish an office to oversee the collection of disability-related statistics in 1929, to setting down a list of policies to govern use of the International Symbol of Access in 1978, to presenting the Charter for the Third Millennium in 1999 and then adopting the Beijing Declaration on the Rights of People with Disabilities in the New Century in 2000 to help push for a UN Convention on human rights for people with disability, RI’s achievements have been many over the years.
Along the way, RI Congresses, conferences, training sessions, and publications have brought together thousands of disability advocates, policy makers, professionals, and civic leaders to learn, think, and discuss how disability issues should be addressed and how disability concerns should be framed within larger social, political, and economic spheres.
RI has also been the parent organization for several other disability-related organizations—organizations founded by people originally brought together through their work with RI or their attendance at RI meetings. US-based Easter Seals, the World Rehabilitation Fund, and Disabled Peoples’ International all were established after major divisions within RI itself.
RI grew from its small town roots in the American Midwest in 1922 to an internationally prominent organization in just a few years. RI maintained its contacts around the world during World War II, thanks to the efforts of Bell Greve, LLD, and Dr Henry Kessler, who were determined to keep it alive. Unlike most international organizations with a large core staff at the headquarters level, the RI Secretariat in New York has never been large. Instead, the majority of the work has been carried out by RI’s member organizations.
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 reflected changing social awareness towards disability. At present, the organization prefers to go by the abbreviation of its 1972 name, and RI now stands for Rights and Inclusion as well.
RI is and has been many things to many people. To some it is an old and established disability and rehabilitation organization; to others it is an organization they have just stumbled across on this web site which offers some promising new ideas, opportunities for networking, and a broad perspective on disability issues. What continues to make RI such a viable organization is that the ideas and information, contacts, and publications will be useful now and in the future.
To learn more about RI’s history, read From Charity to Disability Rights: Global Initiatives of Rehabilitation International 1922-2002.