As with other forms of social change, improvements in independence, inclusion, equality, access and services for people with disability have generally had to be fought for and won through campaigns run by those affected, as well as their allies. This set of resources focuses on case studies and histories regarding how organisations and communities have worked together to secure change and defend gains.
For many advocates, the turning point in the long-term battle for Australians with disabilities to be agents of their own destiny was 1981 – the UN International Year of Disabled Persons – because that was the year when they became unified and organised. In reality though, the genesis of the disability rights movement in Australia predates 1981 by at least a decade. – Agents of Our Own Destiny, 2021
A report which provides a history of the disability rights movement and activism and advocacy that led to the Disability Royal Commission being established in 2019. Available in Easy Read formats and a video as well as a detailed 45 page document.
Created by film makers Sarah Barton and Liz Burke, ‘Defiant Lives’ draws on interviews with 30 activists to provide a history of “how the disability rights movement in the United States, Britain and Australia literally changed the world we live in.”
A video and transcript from the launch of this book, which documents the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability across Australia. Dr Scott Avery from the First Peoples Disability Network outlines the key findings of the research. The book can be purchased here.
A report regarding the history of disability in Australia which “looks at different cultural and social factors that have impacted the lives of people with disability.” Written by Associate Professor Lorna Hallahan it includes chapters exploring how movements for change have influenced laws and reforms. Available in Easy Read formats and a video as well as a detailed 153 page document.
An online exhibit from the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka which includes stories of many activists and campaigns.
An entry in the Encyclopaedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. A longer chapter by the same author, entitled ‘Part of the human condition’: Women in the Australian disability rights movement’ can be found here.
An article about advocacy and activism published by People With Disability Australia.
An article from 1999 by Margaret Cooper which includes a history of activism from the 1970s up until the time of publication.
This project compiled 100 life stories and opinions from “people living with disability who have taken control of their own life, who have a vision of what is possible, and who are taking personal action to build the life they want to live.”
A timeline covering dozens of collective and publicly disruptive actions undertaken as part of campaigns by people with disability to challenge discrimination and win rights.
Organisational, Campaign and Individual Histories
An account from Joan Hume of her activist journey and involvement in protests against discrimination in the 1980s as well as the work of John Roarty in opposing institutionalisation and establishing community housing in the 1970s.
Based on John Roarty’s long out of print memoir this film includes a dramatic reconstruction of the 1970s campaign by disabled people to gain greater independence. Its producers state, “Made in 1980 this film reflects the cultural attitudes and language of the time and country where it was made.”
An article written by activist Lesley Hall which outlines her actions as one of many women with disability who protested against beauty quests held for charity during the 1980s, as well as her reasons for doing so.
From the outset, Women with Disabilities Victoria was a ‘very member driven’ network, building on the model of the feminist collectives of previous decades. It had an important internal focus as a social support group for empowering women with disabilities. Women came together to talk about issues and discuss the ways in which women with disabilities were discriminated against differently. They ‘got involved’, writing letters and making policy, focusing on health related issues, parenting issues and domestic violence. They lived the mantra of ‘nothing about us without us. – Nothing About Us Without Us, 2010
A history compiled in 2010 by Rosemary Francis and Nikki Henningham which covers the lives and activities of many female activists from the 1970s onwards, as well as the role they played in the formation and activities of Women with Disabilities Victoria. Six oral histories from the women involved can also be found here and here.
A biography covering Margaret Cooper’s work as a founder of the Disability Resource Centre, Women with Disabilities Victoria and other groups. It discusses her role, in concert with others, in putting the needs and rights of women with disability on the public agenda, both in Australia and internationally.
An article by Anja Homberg which traces the activist journey of Martin Stewart from leading workplace strikes at the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind through to working as an Advocacy Officer for Blind Citizens Australia.
It’s important to know that self advocacy has been going for a long time for the new people coming in… when the ‘old people retire’ [our history] will be important for the younger ones. – Self Advocate, Reinforce history group, 2013
This book provides a history of Reinforce, a self-advocacy organisation for people with intellectual disability, from the 1970s to 2013 via timelines, personal stories and biographies covering a range of conferences, protests, campaigns and other activities.
A podcast in which Des Ryan OAM discusses a range of advocacy work he has been involved in since the 1980s, including campaigns around building construction and funding for disability organisations, as well as Rockhampton’s annual Accessibility Pub Crawl.
A timeline, with links to videos, statements and documents, covering the launch of this campaign and the hundreds of events it organised around the country. These successfully mobilised hundreds of thousands of people to pressure the federal government into legislating the NDIS.
In 2020 a huge campaign was launched which succeeded in defeating federal government plans to reduce access to the NDIS. This video is of a webinar in which campaigners shared their insights into how this victory was achieved.
A summary of tweets from the Every Australian Counts campaign which shares “the backstory to their recent success in fighting off the Federal Government’s plans to introduce independent assessments under the NDIS.”
El Gibbs is a campaigner and award winning writer whose work focuses on disability and social justice issues. In this podcast she and writer, speaker and disability rights advocate, Elly Desmarchelier, discuss their experiences of campaigning around a range of causes.
- People With Disability Australian Protest Timeline
- Australian Radio Shows by and for People with Disability
- TED talks on Disability Rights, Perceptions, Accessibility and Inclusion
- Making Advocacy Accessible Collection in Commons Library
- History - Australia
- Movements_Campaigns - People with disability
- People with disability