International Year of Disabled Persons

International Year of Disabled Persons 1981

The United Nations declared 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP). The celebration of IYDP across Australia in literally hundreds of events organised by local, state and the Federal governments and by civil society organisations which brought people with disability together on a scale and with a focus which had not previously occurred. IYDP particularly emphasised the rights of persons with disability and our participation within society. At that time, this represented a major shift in personal and social consciousness of disability away from understanding it in terms of individual pathology (the medical model) to an understanding based in human rights and a focus on the elimination of barriers created by society (the social model). Our place in the community, in terms of our physical presence, social inclusion and civic participation, were also central to this new consciousness.

The First Handicapped Persons Conference

To bring focus to the celebration of IYDP in NSW, the NSW Government through the (then) Department of  Youth and Community Services established the IYDP Secretariat within its Handicapped Persons Bureau. A budget allocation of approximately $30,000 was provided for the IYDP Secretariat’s operation.  As IYDP events unfolded, one of the criticisms to emerge from people with disability was many of the events focused on or involved non-disabled people in identifying public policy priorities for people with disability. This included disability service providers, professionals working in the area of disability and family members of persons with disability.

To address this concern, the IYDP Secretariat decided to fund an event specifically for people with disability to identify priorities for public policy development. This event – which was called the First Handicapped Persons Conference – was actually held in early 1982, after IYDP had ended, so it was also an opportunity for reflection on the Year itself and what it had achieved.

A key issue discussed throughout the conference was the importance of people with disability having a direct voice in public policy development, rather than this voice being  filtered through other stakeholder groups. In the final plenary session of the conference, a motion was moved from the floor and carried unanimously, that a Handicapped Persons Union be established to create this voice. The organisation established as a result of  this resolution has eventually evolved into what is now called People with Disability Australia.