A brief history of the disability services sector in Australia

11 December 2020

By Lesley Chenoweth AO, Emeritus Professor Griffith University.

Image: Man in a denim jacket writing in a notebook sitting at an outdoor café. He has a cup of coffee and plant on his table.

Lesley Chenoweth is a leading Australian disability activist - she is also a fantastic writer and has written 'A brief history of the disability services sector in Australia: 1992 – present day' for Life Without Barriers.

The report follows a roughly chronological path, referring briefly back to 1981 and the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP), and then forward across the critical policy issues of the time: Deinstitutionalisation; Community Living; Person Centred Practice; the crisis of Unmet Need and the development of a National Disability Insurance Scheme. The shift across several decades to a marketised sector and its current difficulties are covered in the sections Marketisation and Market Failures. The seven timelines developed alongside these periods of history are included for ease of tracking how events unfolded and in which jurisdiction.

Any discussion of the disability services sector in Australia usually marks the year 1981, which the United Nations determined as the International Year of Disabled Persons IYDP); however, because such a determination was actually made in 1975, following the Declaration of the Rights of Disabled Persons, the decade prior to the 1980s can now be seen as foundational towards the changes that were to subsequently impact the sector. This was a decade of civil rights movements globally, and in Australia the demands for recognition of human rights for vulnerable citizens, including those with a disability, should be viewed as a part of this global trend.

Read the full report here.

Employment Without Barriers

Join our campaign to create employment without barriers.