2010 Conference: Thirty Years Of Progress In Australian Disability Policy: A Parthian Shot by Dr Mike Steer

This paper was presented ‘virtually’ at the 2010 conference of the Round Table on Information Access for People with Print Disabilities. Dr Mike Steer couldn’t attend conference in person, but presented this paper by pre-recorded video. You can flip through the slides below or listen to an audio recording of the presentation.

Watch or listen to this presentation

Watch the video presentation on Vimeo: (captioned video, thanks to Media Access Australia) (uncaptioned video).

Audio recording of Mike Steer’s presentation (MP3, 60.1 MB)

Presenter’s bio

Screen shot from Mike Steer's video presentation
Dr Mike Steer, AM. is Senior Lecturer in Vision Impairment at Renwick Centre, Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children and The University of Newcastle, and Member of the Order of Australia. Past appointments include Director of the NSW Office on Disability, Principal Advisor, Disability Policy, Government of Victoria; Director, Integration Unit, Ministry of Education (Victoria) and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Health & Behavioural Sciences, Deakin University, Principal Consultant & Director of Special Education, Government of Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada, Principal, Psychoeducational Teaching Laboratory, Syracuse University, USA, and Principal, Montreal Association School for the Blind.


History teaches us that Parthia was an ancient country in southwest Asia. The Parthians were expert archers whose specialty was winning battles by shooting arrows while pretending to be in retreat. With regard to the battle to obtain better services for those with a print disability, Australians and their Kiwi cousins can proudly claim to be at the forefront, internationally, in developing and implementing disability policy. The 1994 Commonwealth Disability Strategy, designed to promote access for people with disabilities to mainstream services, is but one recent example of our nation’s innovative policy approach. Much, however, must still be done to achieve ‘state of the art’ policy and service development. In the face of global financial constraint and a rapidly ageing population, the lessons of history offer much of importance to future disability policy development, since as the philosopher Santayana pointed out “those who know not their history are destined to repeat it”. This presentation is a retrospective on the gradual development of service systems for people with disabilities in our nation; services that have rapidly grown over the past 30 years as a result of community groups that have planned globally, but acted locally. With a Parthian glance, we shall together trace and celebrate our field’s progress from IYDP in 1981 through a number of major milestones; for example, the establishment of ACROD, later NDS, the formation of the Australian Chapter of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI), the Disability Advisory Council of Australia (DACA), the Handicapped Programs Review and the Disability Services Act (DSA) The retrospective will culminate with examples of such spectacular recent innovations as Person Centred Planning and Inter-agency Coordination, as well as some brilliant examples of current technological innovation.


Slide 1

Round Table on Information Access for People with a Print Disability

2010 Annual Conference, 23-25 May 2010

Heritage Auckland, Auckland New Zealand

Thirty Years Of Progress In Australian Disability Policy

Dr Mike Steer

RIDBC Renwick Centre & The University of Newcastle

Slide 2

Photo caption: Burton Blatt, 1927-1985

Slide 3

Christmas in Purgatory: A photographic essay on mental retardation

Burton Blatt & Fred Kaplan (1974)

There is a hell on earth, and in America there is a special inferno.

We were visitors there during Christmas 1965

Photo of a large institutional building

Slide 4

Photo caption: Wolf Wolfensberger

Originator of Citizen Advocacy and Social Role Valorization, Foremost propagator of normalization in North America.

Slide 5

The Principle Of Normalization, 1972

The use of culturally normative means to enable persons to have & maintain life conditions that are at least as good as those of average citizens and as much as possible: enhance or support their

  • Behaviour
  • Appearance
  • Experiences
  • Status & Reputation

Slide 6

SRV Value

Diagram: a set of scales. On one side is a list of words with an arrow pointing upwards:

  • Friendless
  • Discontinuous Experiences
  • Materially Poor
  • Low Skills
  • Life-Wasting
  • Segregated

On the other side is a list of words with an arrow pointing down:

  • Appearance
  • Skills
  • Valued Relationships
  • Living Arrangements
  • Income
  • Etc

Slide 7

Instruments for evaluating human services in terms of SRV:

PASS (Wolfensberger & Glenn, 1975)

PASSING (Wolfensberger & Thomas, 1983).

Foundations Forum (NSW)

Slide 8

Sonyea Center

Outline map showing a series of buildings in a circle around a central open space. Clockwise from the bottom, the buildings are labelled:

Babies & Infants



Young Adult Males

Young Adult Females




Geriatric Centre

Slide 9

The Early Days


Childrens Home

Exon House


Gold Rush Legacy

St Nich’s Hospital

Colanda- electronics

Dax Homes & MR Nurses

Beechworth- Cages & Rotting floors

MRD Admissions & Discharge Committee

From Health to Community Services

Slide 10

The Early Days in Australia

  • 1811: First institution, Castle Hill Asylum, established in NSW
  • 1852: Adelaide Lunatic Asylum established
  • 1860 Royal NSW Institute for Deaf & Blind Children established
  • 1866: Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind established

Slide 11


1901 – Alice Betteridge born: first deafblind person to receive education in Australia.

1910 – Invalid Pension introduced

1933 – First folding, tubular steel wheelchair was invented.

1941 – Discovery of link between rubella in pregnant women and blindness in newborn babies

1945 – Sickness benefit introduced

1948 – Helen Keller visits Australia.

1950s – First sheltered workshops for children with disabilities

1952 – First guide dog training centre in Australia established in Perth

1960s – Text telephones invented

1969 – Vaccine for Rubella became available.

Slide 12

Milestone 1975

UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons,

Adopted 9 December 1975

  • Disabled persons are entitled to same political & civil rights as others, including measures necessary to enable them to become self-sufficient.
  • Reiterated rights of disabled persons to education, medical services, & placement services.
  • Recognised right to economic & social security, to employment, to live with their families, to participate in social and creative events, to be protected against all exploitation, abuse or degrading behaviour, & to avail themselves of legal aid

Slide 13

Milestone – 1981

International Year of Disabled Persons

UN General Assembly: Themes = equalisation of opportunities, rehabilitation & prevention

Planning began1976 with National Advisory Council for the Handicapped (NACH) and the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Rehabilitation (SIDCOR).

National IYDP Unit established Canberra in Department of Social Security

Strategies integrated into national policies

for socio-economic development,

preventive activities include development &

use of technology for prevention,

legislation eliminating discrimination on access to facilities, social security, education and employment.

Slide 14

Milestone 1987

Disability Council of NSW

Established by Act of Parliament,

The Community Welfare Act of 1987.


  • To advise Government on disability matters;
  • To raise community awareness about people with disability and their aspirations; and
  • To promote participation by people with disability

Slide 15


CS(T)DA 1991

  • Sets out responsibilities of Commonwealth, States & Territories Governments & types of supports to be provided

National Goals

  • Provide range of innovative services
  • Shift as far as possible to funding non-government services
  • Simplify service access arrangements
  • Promote access to generic services, including transfers of existing services to generic services
  • Reduce administrative overheads, streamline administration

Slide 16

CS(T)DA Scope Of Services

Accommodation Support


Competitive Employment

Independent Living Training

Information Services

Print Disability Services

Recreation Services

Respite Care Services

Supported Employment Services

Early Intervention (Therapy) Services

Other Therapy Services

Research & Development, Assessment, Case Management, Staff Training

Slide 17

Diagram labelled Odd Man Out.

Three circles are arranged at the points of a triangle, with a square in the middle of the triangle.

The square is labelled Community Groups. The circles are labelled Commonwealth, States & Territories and NGOs etc Recipients of Government $$$

There are two directional arrows between each of the circles, an arrow from the NGO circle to the square, and arrows from the square to the other two circles.

There is a box labelled ACROD/NDS to the side of the main triangle. There is an arrow from the NGO circle to the box, and from the box to the Commonwealth circle.

Slide 18


Medical Advances & Health

Technical Innovation


Participating in Community Life

Employment Opportunities

The Arts


Finding a Voice

Slide 19

Medical Advances, Health, Safety

Development of vaccines to prevent serious illnesses that cause disability

Improvements in care of accident victims

Education about safety on roads & workplace

Education to reduce risks of birth defects caused during pregnancy

Recognising importance of care & understanding for people with disabilities

Slide 20

Technology, Communication & Mobility

  • Touch replaces sight: Mountbatten Brailler
  • CCTVs (Opticon)
  • Talking Computers (JAWS)
  • Talking Books (Books in the Sky)
  • Sign language (Auslan)
  • Hearing Aids
  • Text telephones
  • Guide Dogs, Wheelchairs, Long canes

Slide 21

Community Participation

  • NSW HomeCare
  • Meals on Wheels
  • Carers
  • Disability Standards for Public Transport
  • Building Standards/Codes
  • Captioning
  • Holidaying
  • Wheelchair access
  • Awareness Events

Slide 22


Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC, 1981)

Purpose: To eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and promote wider acceptance and inclusion.

National Disability Services (NDS, 1963)

National industry association for disability services in Australia. It established as ACROD with today over 600 NGO’s as members. NDS plays a critically important role in influencing government legislation and funding with regard to quality services for people with disabilities

Slide 23

Employment Opportunities

  • Business Services (House with No Steps)
  • Open Employment Services (CentreLink)

Employer Obligations

  • Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Act (1986)
  • Disability Discrimination Act (1993)
  • Employers required to make adjustments to workplace unless it caused unjustifiable hardship to business
  • Workplace Modifications Scheme of Dept of Health & Family Services, businesses eligible for Govt funding to offset cost of adjustments

Slide 24

Australian Greats

1967, Professor Graeme Clark, University of Melbourne, began research on hearing devices surgically implanted in the ear (Cochlear Implants)


1970’s Professor Hollows at UNSW. pioneers treatment of trachoma


Slide 25

Diagram showing three interlinking circles labelled Philosophy, Implementation and Legislation.

Philosophy + Implementation – Legislation = Unempowerment

Legislation + Philosophy – Implementation = Fragmentation

Legislation + Implementation – Philosophy = Maladaptation

Slide 26

Commonwealth Agencies

  • CentreLink
  • Commonwealth Care Link
  • Department of Employment & Workplace Relations (DEWR)
  • Department of Families, Housing, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)
  • Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC)
  • NSW Disability Discrimination Legal Centre

Slide 27

Nsw State Government

Big Business

Complex Structure

Huge Budget

150 Government agencies

130 required under Section 9 DSA to produce formal disability plans

Slide 28

NSW Government Agencies

  • Anti- Discrimination Board (1977 Act)
  • Dept of Ageing, Disability & Home Care
  • Public Trustee NSW
  • Office of the Protective Commissioner (merger?)
  • Department of Community Services
  • Legal Aid NSW
  • NSW Dept of Education & Training
  • NSW Ombudsman

Slide 29

Diagram labelled Dealing with Governments

A circle labelled Supplicants with two arrows pointing to a box labelled Bureaucratic Arm and a circle labelled Political Arm.

Government Interests

  • The Party
  • Special Interest Groups
  • The Public
  • The Media
  • The Opposition
  • National Trends
  • Regulations

Slide 30

Community Voices

  • The Physical Disability Council of NSW Inc (PDCN), the peak body representing people with physical disability across NSW
  • NSW Council for Intellectual Disability
  • Family Advocacy

Slide 31

Logos for:

  • pwd people with disability
  • National Disability Abuse and Neglect Hotline 1800 880 052
  • Complaints Resolution & Referral Service
  • Australian Network for Universal Housing Design
  • Aboriginal disability Network
  • Sexual Assualt in Disability & Aged Care
  • Disability Studies & Research Institute, UNSW
  • Technical Aid to the Disabled NSW

Slide 32

The Charities

  • Northcott Disability Centre
  • The Deaf Society
  • Spastic Centre
  • Forsight Foundation
  • Vision Australia
  • Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children
  • Brain Injury Association
  • Down Syndrome NSW Inc

Slide 33

Some early 10 Year Plans

  • Calgary Plan (mid-1970’s)
  • Victorian 10 Year Plan 1987 (Neilson Report)
  • Disability Directions: Tomorrow’s Blueprint NSW 1993-4

Provide a Priorities Framework

Promote Optimism

Attempt to address policy drift

Slide 34

NSW Disability 10 Year Plan Stronger Together

Launched by Premier, 26 May 2006

NSW annual expenditure over $1.2 billion on disability access to public transport, specialist Health services, Housing & Education

  • $1.3 Billion in first five years
  • Intensive consultation process

Minister attended 9 regional consultation meetings

  • Strengthening families
  • Promoting community inclusion
  • Improving system capacity & accountability

Slide 35

Paradigm Shift

from: Disabled people need specialised treatment & services delivered in controlled environments, to minimise contact with others

to: Unless Rights of PwD are focus of service delivery, People will lead Devalued Lives

Slide 36

Delivery Pattern Changes Across Time

Diagram showing three circles on a timeline from1960 to 2009. The first circle contains arrows pointing inwards. In the second circle, half of the arrows are pointing inwards and half outwards. In the third circle, all the arrows are pointing outwards.

Slide 37

Importance of the Community Voice

Diagram showing a wavy line graph going up and down over time. The first upwards line is labelled Going well. The line reaches a peak labelled No worries. The line points downward and is labelled Neglect. The line reaches a trough and is labelled Scandal. The line starts to rise again, labelled Reform. It reaches another peak labelled Complacency. It points downwards again, labelled Neglect.

[end of slides]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s