Jul 1, 2015 - Jul 29, 2015

The Campaign for Disability Rights

Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E)

At the same time, that the Vietnam War moratorium marches were on the nightly news, so too was a less well-known community movement making their voices heard. The Campaign for Disability Rights was a long struggle, over many decades, by Australians living with a disability calling for equal human, economic and social rights.   This exhibition Grassroots Democracy: The Campaign for Disability Rights is a conversation starter. We explore just some of the many events and people behind this large movement. There are many, many others who have also contributed.

Across Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century, charities established schools and large homes, the later often run like hospitals. There were too many to name but examples include Yooralla kindergarten for “physically weak and defective children” (The Herald, Tuesday November 12th 1918), which started in Drummond Street in Carlton, Melbourne and educated children who were outpatients at the nearby Children’s Hospital. In Perth, Claremont Mental Hospital (1904 to 1986) had up to 1000 people with dementia and intellectual disability, as well as people with severe psychiatric conditions.
John Roarty became one of the first rebels challenging institutionalisation. He lived at Weemla for 58 years and helped set up a residents committee at Weemala to refuse what he saw as petty interventions in their lives. Patients were not allowed to leave the institution except for “approved annual leave” and were not allowed to use motorized wheelchairs. John took his complaints to the media. This action helped spark a period of reform within institutions, as well as de-institutionalisation. John went on to be an adviser to the NSW government and received an Order of Australia for his contributions to the community.

Lesley Hall at the 1981 protest against the Miss Victoria beauty quest.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the early campaigners saw their goals progressed with the right to self-determination and the right to study, work and marry now a possibility.

Uncle Lester is a Bundjalung man who has been at the forefront of promoting and protecting the human rights of Aboriginal people with disability in Australia over several decades.

Katie Ball was a significant campaigner of the 1990s who was "sexy, disabled and proud."

"Get proud and never, ever stop challenging the things you think are unfair." Stella Young

Protest banner from a 2012 Melbourne protest in support of accessible public transport.

The 2011 - 2013 disability rights campaign, in support of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, used the slogan “Every Australian Counts” with an organisation of the same name encouraging grassroots involvement across Australia. Social media, DisabiliTeas, street rallies and story sharing were used to show support for the NDIS. Many stories of hardship and inequality caused by lack of resources were exposed.

Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin and Prime Minister Julia Gillard at a rally in support of the NDIS in 2012.

Kelly Vincent MLC addresses a rally in Adelaide in support of the NDIS, 2012.

One of Australia's largest pieces of social and economic reform in recent years, the NDIS received cross party support. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott at a rally in 2012.

The first to be elected to an Australian parliament on a disability rights platform - the leader of the Dignity for Disability party and MLC of South Australia, Kelly Vincent.

Credits: Story

With thanks to all the people who provided information and photographs, searching through their own personal collections to share this story with you.

With thanks to the photographers and film makers: Belinda Mason, Aldona Kmiec, Margherita Coppolino, Leon Woods, Rennie Ellis and Sarah Barton.

With thanks to the State Library of Victoria for their digitalisation program.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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