Why we need disability advocacy

Throughout history, people with disability have been hidden away or subjected to abuse, ignorance and prejudice. The power of disability advocacy over the past century has radically shifted thinking to recognise the rights of all people with disability to live in the community, with choices equal to others.

Disability advocacy came from the disability rights movement. In the 1970s and 1980s, significant battles were fought for the rights of people with disability, including the right to have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services necessary to support living an independent, unsegregated life.

Disability activists joined forces, like those working for civil, women’s and Indigenous rights, to demand equal treatment, equal access and equal opportunity for people with disability. They challenged stereotypes, rallied for political and institutional change, and lobbied for self-determination – on the streets, in the courts, across the media, within services and in the halls of power.

Today, over 4 million Australians with disability still face many barriers and further significant change is needed to ensure they enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other people. Disability advocacy continues to promote equal opportunity for people with disability to participate in all areas of life including:

  • Safety – More than 70 per cent of women with disability have been victims of violent sexual encounters at some time in their lives and a staggering 90 per cent of women with an intellectual disability have been subjected to sexual abuse. 2
  • Employment – 53 per cent of people with disability of working age are in the labour force, compared with 83 per cent of people without disability. People with disability have nearly twice the unemployment rate of those without disability. 3
  • Education – 36 per cent of people with disability of working age have completed high school, compared with 60 per cent of people without disability. 4
  • Health – 35 per cent of people with disability report poor or fair health compared with 5 per cent of people without disability. 5
  • Income – The relative income of people with disability in Australia is approximately 70 per cent of those without disability, the lowest of all 27 countries in the OECD. As a result, people with disability are more likely to live in poverty. 6


“The good things in life are universal and include being treated with dignity, respect, acceptance; a sense of belonging; an education; developing and exercising one’s capacities; a voice in the affairs of your community and society; opportunities to participate; a decent material standard of living; a normative place to live; and opportunities for work and self support” ~ Wolfensberger et al 1996 7


2 C Frohmader and T Sands, Australian Cross Disability Alliance (ACDA) Submission to the Senate Inquiry into violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability
in institutional and residential settings, 2015

3-6 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2012

7 W Wolfensberger et al., International Social Role Valorization Journal 2 (2), 12–14, 1996