Rehabilitation International approved its Charter for the Third Millennium in London on 9 September 1999. The charter has been presented to Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and to heads of state and governments of the approximately one hundred countries in which Rehabilitation International has members. The charter calls for the human rights of each person in every society to be recognised and protected.


We enter the Third Millennium determined that the human rights of each person in every society shall be recognised and protected. This Charter is proclaimed to translate this vision into reality.

Basic human rights are still routinely denied to entire sectors of the world’s population, including many of the estimated 500 million children, women and men who have disabilities. We seek a world where equal opportunity for disabled people becomes a natural consequence of enlightened policies and legislation supporting full inclusion in, and access to, all aspects of society.

Scientific and social progress in the 20th century has increased understanding of the unique and inviolate value of each life. Yet ignorance, prejudice, superstition and fear still govern much of society’s response to disability. In the Third Millennium, we must accept disability as an ordinary part of the varied human condition. Statistically, at least ten per cent of any society is born with or acquires a disability, and about one family in four includes a disabled person.

In developed and developing countries, in the North and South of the world, segregation and marginalisation have placed disabled people on the lowest rung of the social and economic ladder. In the 21st century, we must insist on the same human and civil rights for people with disabilities as for everyone else.

The 20th century has demonstrated that with invention and ingenuity it is possible to extend access to every resource of the community—to the physical, social and cultural environments, transportation, information, technology, mass media, education, justice, public service, employment, sport and recreation, voting and worship. In the 21st century, we must extend this access from the few to the many, dismantling all environmental, electronic and attitudinal barriers to full inclusion in community life. With that access can come the stimulation of participation and leaderships, the warmth of fellowship, the glories of shared affection, and the beauties of the earth and universe.

Every minute of every day, more and more children and adults are being added to the number of persons whose disabilities result from the failure to prevent preventable diseases and failure to treat treatable conditions. Global immunisation and other prevention strategies are no longer aspirations: they are practical and cost-effective possibilities. What is needed is the political determination, primarily of governments, to end this afront to humanity.

Technological advances are theoretically bringing manipulation of the genetic components of life within human control. This introduces new ethical dimensions to the international dialogue about disability prevention. In the Third Millennium we must create compassionate policies that respect the dignity of all people and the inherent balance and benefits derived from the wise diversity among them.

International programmes to assist economic and social development should require minimum accessibility standards in all infrastructure projects, including technology and communications, to ensure that people with disabilities are fully included in the life of their communities.

Every nation should have ongoing, countrywide programmes to reduce or prevent any risk that might lead to impairment, disability or handicap, as well as early intervention programmes for children and adults who become impaired.

All disabled people should have access to treatment, information about self-help techniques and, if needed, provision of adaptive and appropriate technologies.

Every person with an impairment, and every family with a disabled member, should receive the rehabilitation services necessary to optimise mental, physical and functional well-being, thus ensuring the capacity of the disabled individual to manage life as independently as any other citizen.

Disabled people should have a central role in planning their own rehabilitation and support programmes, and disabled people’s organisations should be empowered with the necessary resources to share responsibility in national planning for rehabilitation and independent living.

Community-based rehabilitation should be widely promoted nationally and internationally as an affordable and sustainable approach to services.

Each nation must develop, with the participation of organisations of and for people with disabilities, a comprehensive plan with clearly defined targets and timetables for implementing the aims expressed in this Charter.

This Charter calls on member States to support the promulgation of a United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities as a key strategy to achieve these goals.

In the Third Millennium, it must become the goal of all nations to evolve into societies that protect the rights of people with disabilities by supporting their full empowerment and inclusion in all aspects of life. For these purposes, the Charter for the Third Millennium is proclaimed for action by all humankind, in the conviction that implementation of its aims is a primary responsibility of each government, and of all relevant non-governmental and international organisations.

Rehabilitation International Headquarters: 25 East 21st Street, New York, NY10010
President of Rehabilitation International: Arthur O’Reilly, c/o NRB, 4 Clyde Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4.