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The 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 for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2008. 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.

The Museum of Australian Democracy has an honour board of people who have campaigned for the rights of Australians with disability.

Involve is a tool that has the potential to further the Disability Rights Movement in the ACT. It enables individuals and organisations to galvanise community support and action around ideas for a more inclusive Canberra.


Having somewhere to live encompasses more than just bricks and mortar; it is a key factor in community participation and connectedness. Adequate housing is not only important for economic security, but also for physical and mental wellbeing, independence and identity. The security of owning or renting your home provides freedom of choice, and is the basis for social and economic participation in our community. There is evidence, however, that people with disability experience substantial barriers in finding a place to live, particularly in the private market. People with disability and their families want to have the choice to live in their own home in safety, with control over who they live with, and where they live. The challenge is to combine these goals with the supply of affordable accessible housing.

A recent national survey, A place I can proudly call home found:

  • 53% of respondents want a home of their own, and to live with only immediate family
  • 31% of people prefer a share house with one or two others, or an intentional community with other people with disability
  • 12% of people expressed a preference for traditional models such as supported accommodation group homes
  • no respondents expressed a wish to live in a large residential centre.

Improved provision of accessible and well-designed housing for people with disability is a key priority area under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020. It is also one of the priority areas of focus in 2015-17 through Involve. The ACT Government is committed to working with the community and people with disability to grow and develop innovative options to improve affordability and security of housing, across all forms of tenure for people with disability in the ACT.


Work is essential to a person's long term economic security, and is important to connecting with others. Income from work increases financial independence and raises living standards. In 2012, people with disability in the ACT, according to the Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC), were less likely to be participating in the labour force (63.7%) than people without disability (86.7%). However, for people with disability, labour force participation rates are highest in the ACT, compared to other States and Territories.

People with a disability are employed in a wide range of industries with many occupations. ACT workers with disability are much more likely to be clerical and administrative workers, or 'professionals'. They are significantly less likely to be involved in manual work. These differences could be explained in part by the underlying structure of the economy of the ACT.

We know from 2012 SDAC data that:

  • people with intellectual disability were more likely to be working as labourers, such as packers and product assemblers, or cleaners and laundry workers
  • people with physical disability were more likely to be in professional occupations, such as school teachers, or midwifery and nursing professionals
  • people with disability were more likely to run their own business and/or work from home, than people without disability
  • in the ACT, one in five people with disability indicated they would like a job with more hours - similar to the rate of people without disability.