University of Vermont

University Communications

International Advocate for Children with Disabilities to Speak on Sept. 20

The key figure in an international effort to build a model school for people with disabilities in China -- whose life story has drawn worldwide attention -- will share her compelling journey on Thursday, Sept. 20 in the Davis Center's Livak Ballroom from 1 to 3 p.m.

Zhao Chunli, who grew up with a brittle bone disease and dwarfism, was forced into hiding as a 16-year-old because officials in her ancient Chinese fishing village thought she was not fit to be seen by President Clinton during his visit to China in 1998. Unable to afford healthcare on her family’s meager fishing subsistence, Chunli suffered chronic pain and social discrimination, and was not allowed to attend school.

Despite her disability and lack of formal education, Chunli eventually gained employment at the Yangzhou Mountain Retreat Hotel, where proficiency in Mandarin, English and accounting were required. She eventually married Mo En Yao and adopted an abandoned baby girl named Monica. Chunli, whose story aired on CNN, has recently completed an educational leadership internship at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.

Chunli and Dr. Kathy Johnson of St. Cloud State University will share information about Ginko Academy, a Center for Educational Excellence and co-sponsor of the event along with UVM's Center on Disability and Community Inclusion, and attempt to learn more about UVM’s commitment to education and services for people with disabilities. Ginko Academy receives support from President and Secretary Hillary Clinton; American entrepreneur Chris Barclay; the President’s Office of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota; Save the Children in China; the Gevirtz School of Education; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Judy Heumann, special adviser to President Obama on international disability rights.

The Board of Directors for Ginko Academy is in the process of securing partnerships with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Harvard Law School Disabilities Project, and major universities in the U.S. and China. Craig Barringer, southeastern regional educational consultant for the Vermont I-Team and CDCI, serves on the Executive Committee of the Ginko Academy.

Information: Craig Barringer,, (802) 238-7874 or visit