Rong Ai Rong Le is a Chinese DPO for persons with intellectual disabilities and their families,
Report by Klaus Lachwitz
Challenges in China
The population of the People`s Republic of China is 1.34 billion. That is as big as the whole population of North-America and Europe including Russia!
The Chinese Government reports 6% of the population have a disability (85 million people). At first glance this seems an enormous number but it is likely a huge underestimation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 15 % of the world population have a disability. There are no exact figures available with regard to persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities in China. One explanation given by experts is that in practical life many Chinese authorities still differ between persons who are disabled due to physical impairments, blindness, deafness, sight disturbances, hard of hearing etc., and people who are labelled as being mentally ill including persons with intellectual disabilities.
While it is difficult to verify the real number of people with intellectual disabilities in China, what we know from our experience with families is that all over China there is a huge lack of services to support persons with intellectual disabilities and their families!
Inclusion International’s engagement in China
Inclusion International began its current work in China in 2012 when we learned that some courageous parents of young adults with intellectual disabilities in Beijing were looking for examples of good practices in supported employment. Representatives from Inclusion International’s leadership met with families in 2012 on the occasion of an official forum organized by the Chinese Disabled Persons` Federation (CDPF). The CDPF, Inclusion International`s full member, is a huge Disabled Persons Organization with direct relationship to the Chinese governing party. We learned that about 160 families in Beijing were organizing themselves as a registered company called Rong Ai Rong Le.
Rong Ai Rong Le – Workshop in Beijing
With the support of some international donors a workshop was held by this rather small group of parents and self – advocates in December 2012. Diane Richler, Connie Laurin-Bowie, Fadia Farah, Nagase Osamu and I were invited and asked to speak up on topics such as: living in the community, inclusive education, equal job opportunities, structure of parents organisations, self-advocacy etc. Nearly 100 self – advocates and family members participated and there was an atmosphere of change with open discussions and spirits of optimism.
CDPF – Symposium in Beijing
In 2013 it became apparent that this international workshop was not just a one time event and that there was real progress being made by parents and self-advocates. On Sept. 4, 2013 an important “Symposium on Policies for Persons with Disabilities and Inclusion” was held in Beijing by CDPF the German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). Two mothers representing Rong Ai Rong Le were invited by the German delegation and the German embassy to take part. I was the only speaker representing an international NGO and I got the chance to deliver a statement on the implementation of the UN CRPD and in particular on the rights of persons with intellectual disabilities to receive inclusive education and work opportunities in the open labour market.
At the closing of the symposium the organizers decided to plan a follow up meeting in Germany in 2014 and to deal with the topic: Supported Employment for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities.
Follow up study tour in Germany
This was not hollow promise. In June 2014 a high ranking delegation of 15 people from China visited Germany for one week. Mr. Xiang Zicheng, Director General of the Personnel Department of China Disabled Persons` Federation led the delegation and we were pleased to learn that two members of Rong Ai Rong Le were members of the delegation: Mr. Li Junfeng, General Manager, and Ms.Hu Ying, Project Manager of Rong Ai Rong Le.
The group travelled all over Germany to visit examples of supported employment and to exchange views with different German DPOs and enterprises providing supported employment for persons with intellectual disabilities in hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, shops, garden centres etc.
I was asked to organize a discussion with experts in Berlin and I tried to explain the German welfare system which is based on the model of partnership between public welfare offices and civil society allowing families and self – advocates, for instance, to register as NGOs and to start their own services and private initiatives with the financial support of the municipalities
Symposium on the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities into the Open Labour Market
In the course of the study tour an important symposium was held on July 3, 2014 in the German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in Berlin and many officials from different German Ministries, Welfare offices, DPOs etc. exchanged views with the members of the delegation from China. One of the official speakers was Mr. Li Junfeng representing “Beijing Rong Ai Rong Le Parents Organisation of persons with intellectual disabilities”. It was an amazing speech! He reported that Rong Ai Rong Le is now officially registered as an NGO in Beijing and that in particular CDPF Beijing is starting to promote the active involvement of parents and self – advocates in programs and action plans at regional and local level. But in many parts of China this is only a drop in the bucket. In the rural areas of China many families with sons and daughters with intellectual disabilities are still living in isolation and face daily challenges in achieving basic standards of living.
Mr. Xiang Zicheng, chair of the delegation, confirmed that in most parts of China there is significant need to improve the living conditions of persons with intellectual disabilities. Work is needed to create new services and to ensure the inclusion of persons with intellectual and / or psychosocial disabilities in the new social security system which is being developed in China.
I took part in the symposium in my capacity as II`s President and was invited to speak in a round table on the cooperation of public authorities, social partners and DPOs. My main message was to take Rong Ai Rong Le as a positive example of a civil society initiative in China and to allow other groups of parents and self – advocates in all parts of China to organize as NGOs/DPOs and to receive public support by the Chinese government and the municipalities.
Rong Ai Rong Le has achieved a lot during the last three years with the support of CDPF due to the constant engagement of parents and self – advocates.. It`s a big step forward for the benefit of persons with intellectual disabilities and their families, but in comparison with the huge population in China and the situation in particular in the rural areas of China it`s only a small step. A lot needs to be done to implement the UN – Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which was ratified by China without reservation. Inclusion International and its members will continue to support positive developments for people with intellectual disabilities in China.