Our history

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Celebrating our heritage.

Since the early 1980’s, PWDA has been leading the charge in Australia for advancing and protecting the rights, health and wellbeing of people with disability.

Our history as an organisation is full of struggles and triumphs, and in many ways has mirrored the history of the wider disability rights movement in Australia.

A black and white group photo of PWDA staff smiling.

From then to now   

1981 was a turning point in the history of the Australian and international disability rights movements.

The United Nations had declared 1981 as the inaugural International Year Of Disabled Persons and global disability advocacy organisation Disabled Peoples’ International was formed.

And while PWDA can trace its roots back to 1980 and the formation of the NSW Handicapped Persons’ Union, it was in late 1981 when this group of activists formalised their association as the NSW chapter of Disabled Peoples International which later became People With Disability Australia.

Since then, the hard work, determination and camaraderie of thousands of people has delivered significant improvement for the lives of people with disability right across Australia and helped forge a formidable political and social movement that will continue to empower, champion and celebrate the rights, health and wellbeing of people with disability into the future.


  • 1980 – NSW Handicapped Person’s Union (NSDWHPU) established.
  • 1981 – NSW chapter of Disabled Peoples International established.
  • 1984 – These two organisations merge to become Disabled Peoples International (NSW branch) (DPINSW).
  • 1985 – DPINSW incorporates and adopts a constitution. We continue to focus on NSW-based issues.
  • 1991 – DPINSDW changes it’s name to People With Disability NSW Inc. (PWDNSW). We start to branch out into national activity.
  • 2003 – PWDNSW becomes a national organisation. We change our name to People With Disability Australia (PWDA). We begin undertaking international work and play a key role in the development of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) The CRPD is enacted by the UN in 2008.
  • 2009 – PWDA becomes a national peak body for disability rights and continues to work across NSW, Australia and internationally.
  • 2010 – PWDA begins playing a key role in advising on the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS is launched in 2013.
  • 2016 – PWDA partners with other DPOs to form DPO Australia, a coalition of key Australian disability representative organisations.
  • 2020 – PWDA plays a key role in advocating for increased protection for people with disability during the COVID-19 pandemic
A sepia photo from 1982 of a group of people smiling on a balcony.

Our formation and development

Take a deep dive into our history with this series of articles about the early days of PWDA and how we developed to become Australia’s peak national disability rights and advocacy organisation.

People gathered around and cutting the PWD 30th anniversary cake including Graeme Innes AM, Joan Hume OAM, Senator Jan McLucas & Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO
Cutting of the PWD 30th anniversary cake participants include Joan Hume OAM Senator Jan McLucas Graeme Innes AM Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO

30 years anniversary

On Saturday 16 July 2011, PWDA members, guests and staff came together in Sydney NSW to celebrate our 30th Anniversary Celebration: Past, Present and Future. Special guests on the evening were:

  • Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner and Race Discrimination Commissioner from the Australian Human Rights Commission
  • Joan Hume OAM, PWDA Life Member and Founding Member
  • Senator Jan McLucas, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers
  • Emeritus Professor Ron McCallum AO, Chair of UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities


40 years - People with Disabilty Australia

40 years anniversary

Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic over 2020, 2021 and 2022 prevented us from undertaking any activities to mark our 40th anniversary.

Regardless, the occasion marked a huge milestone for us and our community and provided an important opportunity to reflect on and celebrate what PWDA – alongside our members and supporters – had achieved over four decades.

We now look forward to 2031 when we’ll be marking 50 years of service to people with disability or who are d/Deaf as well as 50 years of an organised disability rights movement in Australia.

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