Disabled People’s Organisations

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Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs)

Since the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, people with disability have organised themselves into their own organisations all over the world. A Disabled People’s Organisation is an organisation that is controlled by people with disability (at least 51% people with disability at the board and membership levels). A DPO is different to other disability sector organisations because it is ‘for us, by us’.

DPOs believe that people with disability are our own best spokespersons, and that our role has been and continues to be fundamental to the disability rights movement.

Two people sitting at a desk, facing each other and using sign language to communicate, there is a teapot on the table in front of them and a bookshelf behind


Up until the late 1970s, the views of persons with disability were largely filtered through (or drowned out by) the voices of disability service providers – professionals (usually without disability themselves) working in the area of disability – and family members of people with disability. This happened in Australia and at the international level.

At the time, Rehabilitation International (the then-key international disability organisation) had a policy that people with disability could attend its periodic international conference as observers but were not permitted to speak. The people whose lives were being affected by the discussions being held there were ‘allowed’ to listen, but not participate. People with disability strongly protested against this policy at the 1980 conference of Rehabilitation International (held in Winipeg, Canada), where a decision was made to establish a new International organisation of and for people with disability. The organisation founded was Disabled Peoples International, which now has members in over 160 countries throughout the world.

Read more about the history of the Disability Rights Movement in Australia here.

Types of DPOs

There are different kinds of DPOs:

  • diagnostic-focused DPOs, which represent a particular medical diagnostic group. E.g. people living with cerebral palsy.
  • population-specific DPOs, which represent a certain population group and their specific experience of disability. E.g. women with disability.
  • cross-disability DPOs, which represent the interests of people with all kinds of disability.

PWDA is a national cross-disability DPO. We work with other national DPOs under the name DPO Australia.

The role of DPOs

The role of these organisations includes:

  • providing disability communities with voices of our own
  • identifying the needs of people with disability
  • expressing views on priorities
  • evaluating services
  • advocating for change
  • raising public awareness

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