Disability Rights Movement

Social movements are groups of individuals or organisations that focus on specific political or social issues. The Disability Rights Movement is an international social movement to secure equal opportunities and equal rights for people with disabilities.

Early lobbying from injured veterans returning from the First World War led to the establishment of the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service by the Commonwealth in the 1940s. Inspired by the civil rights movement in America and the gay rights movement, the Disability Rights Movement began the late 1960s.

The 1980s saw the International Year of Disabled Persons, and a shift from institutional type services to community orientated services. The Commonwealth Disability Services Act 1986 provided for a comprehensive framework for the funding and provision of support services for people with disabilities. The ACT Government enacted the Disability Services Act 1991 in response.

The 1990s saw the enactment of legislation in mental health, disability services and disability discrimination, and the establishment of a Public Advocates and Guardianship Board.

The Australian Government adopted and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008.

The CRPD reflects the view that disability is an ordinary and accepted part of human diversity and recognises that socially constructed barriers prevent people with disabilities from fully enjoying their human rights. The articles of the CRPD apply those rights recognised in general human rights treaties to the context faced by people with disabilities. They provide for special measures or supports to enable all people with disabilities to access and exercise those rights.

In 2009, an Australian Government report prepared by the National People with Disabilities and Carer Council was published following extensive consultations with people with disabilities and their familiies around Australia. Shut Out: the Experience of People with Disabilities and their Families in Australia reflected experiences of struggle, isolation, discrimination and exclusion.     

The findings of the Shut Out report and the human rights framework of the CRPD guided the formation of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 through the Council of Australian Governments. The National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 set a unified, national approach to improving the lives of people with disability, their families and carers, and to providing leadership for a community-wide shift in attitudes. 

People with disabilities and their families campaigned extensively for the National Disability Insurance Scheme - a new way of providing community linking and individualised support for people with permanent and significant disability, their families and carers.


Further information

Advocacy, information and peer support

People With Disability (PWD) Australia: Social Model Of Disability

CRPD Easy Read version (55 page PDF)

National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 - Easy English verison (28 page PDF)