Pivotal moments for disability over the last 30 years

Thursday, 7 May 2020

When EPIC Assist (EPIC) first opened its doors in 1990, the world was a very different place. EPIC only had four staff members, Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, and The Disability Discrimination Act had not even been introduced. As EPIC celebrates our 30th anniversary, we are looking back at the achievements of people with disability and how EPIC has changed with Australia.

In celebration of this anniversary, we have highlighted some of the most pivotal moments in the disability sector and community over the past 30 years. From policy to pop culture and technology, the world has witnessed some amazing achievements along with major challenges.


The Disability Discrimination Act 1992

The Disability Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination against people with disability in employment, education, publicly available premises, provision of goods and services, accommodation, clubs and associations.

This is one of the most important pieces of policy for the disability sector. It was one of the first steppingstones to ensure that people with disability are included in every aspect of life.


National Disability Advisory Council

The Minister for Family Services, Judi Moylan announced the establishment of the National Disability Advisory Council. The council was established to discuss and decide how to best ensure people with disability are involved in mainstream issues and federal policy development.


Mobile phones transformed communication

Mobile phones were quickly becoming more and more popular in the 90s. The introduction of texting transformed how people who are deaf or hearing impaired communicate with each other. Since then, mobile technology has continued to improve accessible communication, especially in 2007 when the first smart phone was released.


Paralympic games held in Australia

The Sydney Paralympic games was one of the biggest sporting events to ever be held in Australia. The games hosted over 3,800 athletes and brought disability to the forefront. Australia won 149 medals across the 11-day competition, crowning us the winning country. This was such a pivotal moment as it showed Australia that people with disability are not to be underestimated – they are strong, determined and successful.


The Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport introduced

The Accessible Public Transport Standards required public transport operators to remove discrimination from all transport services. The standards created greater clarity of the obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act. It ensured that people with disability have the freedom to travel to places they couldn’t before, be more independent and experience more of the world around them.


Inclusive education and schools

UNESCO published the Disability Standards for Education. This set a standard that everyone deserves the same opportunity to education. Since this publication, more and more schools and universities have created accessible environments to include students with disability. Although it has had some major challenges, inclusive school is a positive step in the right direction to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding disability by allowing everyone the same opportunity to learn.


Kurt Fearnley crawls the Kokoda trail

Three-time wheelchair racing Paralympian Kurt Fearnley completed the gruelling Kokoda track by crawling with just his hands in support of Movember. This was an incredible feat that captured all of Australia’s attention. Kurt and his team showed that when we come together, we can break down the barriers of what we thought was impossible.


The Equal Opportunity Act

The objective of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 is to encourage the elimination of discrimination and to promote equality. Under this act employers are mandated to make reasonable adjustments to support employees with a disability, injury, health condition, or mental health condition. This has changed the lives of many workers who are now able to access more employment opportunities and perform at their best.

Workers with Mental Illness: A Practical Guide for Managers

The Australian Human Rights Commission published ‘Workers with Mental Illness: A Practical Guide for Managers’. This guide has helped employers gain a better understanding of mental illness. It assists managers to create mentally healthy and safe workplaces and develop strategies to support workers who are struggling with their mental health.


Matthew Cowdrey becomes Australia’s most successful Paralympian.

During the London Paralympics, the swimmer won 8 medals – placing in every event he competed in. This incredible performance made him the most successful Australian Paralympian ever. He also competed in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympics. During his time in the pool, he won 11 gold medals – 20 medals overall.


Stella young’s TEDx talk

Comedian, writer and disability activist Stella Young presented a TEDx talk in early 2014. It was her raw and honest storytelling that challenged and resonated with audiences across the world. Sadly, Stella passed away later that year, but her message and legacy will never be forgotten.


Dylan Alcott wins his first Australian Open

Tennis superstar Dylan Alcott won his first Australian Open Quad Wheelchair title back in 2016. This was the start of a 6-year winning streak, making Dylan a champion of the game. Dylan is also an incredible disability activist who has gone on to present for Triple J and create a highly successful music festival ‘Ability Fest’ that focuses on accessibility and inclusion for all.

Madeline Stewart walks the runway at New York Fashion Week

The Brisbane model became the first person with Down syndrome to walk in the New York Fashion Week. Madeline took the world by storm with her beauty and power on the runway. For an industry that has been highly criticised for lack of accessibility and inclusion, this was a pivotal moment for many people across the world. This led to a change in the industry with more brands creating accessible clothing and including diverse models in campaigns.


TV diversity

2018 was a great year for diversity on TV. Kiruna Stamell, a dancer with dwarfism, became the newest presenter on Play School. Eye-opening programs such as Employable Me and You Can’t Ask That were some of the most popular shows on television. These programs showed Australia that people with disability have the same wants, dreams and capabilities as everyone else.


Introduction of disability emojis

Apple introduced a new range of emojis surrounding disability. A person in a wheelchair, a person with a cane and a guide dog were just some of the new emojis released. Although this may seem like a minor achievement, it’s small differences like this that can make a big difference to the viewpoint and stigma of disability.

As we look to 2020 and to the next 30 years, we hope Australia becomes a place where accessibility and inclusion is a top priority. At EPIC we are excited to continue our work to help break down barriers to create a world where people with disability are accepted and offered the same opportunities as everyone else.

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