Empowering International Day of Disability Awareness

Written by Tim Harte – PDA’s Treasurer/VIC Director

Australia commemorates International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD) on Saturday, December 3rd. IDPwD, established by the United Nations in 1992 and observed in Australia since 1996, serves several key objectives: fostering a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by People with Disabilities (PwD), rallying support for upholding the rights, dignity, and overall welfare of PwD, and advocating for the full integration and inclusion of PwD in all facets of society. 2018 Australian Bureau of Statistics data found that 17.7% of the Australian population, 4.4 million Australians, were PwD. 

IDPwD events in Australia were organised by various government bodies, workplaces, schools, and universities nationwide. These events all shared a common theme: educating the public by giving PwD a platform to share their personal stories. Through these narratives, these events aim to break down preconceived notions of difference and instead emphasise the commonalities and shared experiences that connect us all. This approach humanises PwD in the eyes of those without disabilities, fostering greater understanding and empathy for the daily challenges faced by people with disabilities. In essence, these events help the non-disabled population “step into the shoes” of PwD, gaining a deeper comprehension of their lives and experiences.

What is disability?  In Australian society, we acknowledge that disabilities can be both visible and invisible forms, encompassing physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory, and neurological disabilities. In this context, the concept of disability oversimplifies a complex reality, based on how an individual’s physical or mental condition deviates from what is considered ‘the norm’. This perspective is often referred to as the Medical Model of Disability and is relevant when seeking treatment or therapy from healthcare professionals. However, it falls short in recognising that true barriers to the full and equal participation of PwD in society stem from environmental and attitudinal factors within our community and society. 

The Social Model of Disability (SMD), originating in the UK in the 1970s, marked a groundbreaking paradigm shift in disability theory. At the core of the SMD lies the distinction between an individual’s inherent conditions or attributes and the broader societal context. According to the SMD, “impairment” pertains to the medical or biological deviations from what is considered the norm. For example, a person who uses a wheelchair may have a physical impairment resulting from a spinal injury. On the other hand, “disability” is defined as the interplay between an individual’s impairments and the obstacles presented by the physical environment and the prevailing attitudes in the social environment. Disability emerges when, for instance, a person using a wheelchair faces architectural barriers in the physical environment. The SMD played a pivotal role in helping PwD recognise that many challenges they encounter are not rooted in their disabilities but are the consequences of disabling elements within society.

The Biopsychosocial Model of Disability (BMD), which emerged in the late 1970s, was designed to offer a comprehensive understanding of how medical conditions and the disabling effects on individuals are not solely a result of biological factors, but rather a complex interplay of biological, psychological, and social factors. Amid various disability models, the BMD stands out as a relatively straightforward and all-encompassing framework. It takes into account the experiences of PwD, the societal obstacles they confront (both environmental and attitudinal), and the psychological impact of individuals’ internal relationship with disability, along with the challenges of overcoming social barriers. In essence, the “Bio” component of the BMD deals with the physiological aspects, such as the effects of impairment, like pain; the “Psycho” aspect addresses psychological aspects, including internalised oppression; and the “Social” aspect encompasses factors within the social environment, including elements like architectural barriers, such as stairs.

Internalised oppression represents a psychological and emotional dimension of disablism, arising from the way PwD perceive themselves. Given that society often ingrains a negative perception of disability, PwD may internalise these negative views, leading them to self-oppress when they perceive their disabilities as a negative aspect of who they are. This phenomenon is more likely to affect those who acquire disabilities later in life because they are confronted with pre-existing negative portrayals, preconceived notions, and stereotypes about disability that they held prior to acquiring disability.

When contemplating the inclusion of PwD, it’s crucial to assess our current progress toward creating a more equitable world. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) was ratified in 2008, marking a significant milestone as disability considerations were notably absent from previous international human rights agreements. In comparison, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was established in 1979, and more than four decades later, gender equity remains an ongoing challenge. Now, 14 years since the UNCRPD’s implementation, numerous advancements are still pending, waiting to be put into practice to enhance the lives, circumstances, and the overall inclusion of PwD, while also enriching the knowledge base within disability studies.

Most community members will have limited control or influence over the physical environment in their workplaces or places of study. We are not all architects or builders who can fix inaccessible steps. However, it’s important not to be disheartened by this limitation. As mentioned earlier, it’s the social dynamics that People with Disabilities (PwD) encounter, such as prevailing attitudes and misconceptions, that shape the extent of their exclusion or inclusion in society. Becoming more disability-aware and fostering understanding doesn’t require a comprehensive knowledge of every medical condition or disability type. Instead, it’s about cultivating an awareness of the physical and social environment, which enables you to identify and acknowledge the barriers that exist.

My top tips that individuals can implement for enhancing the inclusion of PwD: 1) Acknowledge that PwD are first and foremost individuals with emotions, aspirations, and life experiences. They are not objects of pity or charity, but rather individuals navigating real-life challenges and triumphs on a daily basis. 2) Recognise that PwD are the foremost authorities on their own lives. If you have questions, approach them with respect and inquire politely. Every person’s experience of disability is unique, and it’s essential not to make assumptions or speak on behalf of others. 3) Appreciate the value of the lived experiences of PwD. The diverse perspectives, values, and life experiences they bring to the table are constructive contributions to teams and the decision-making process.

IDPwD serves as a poignant reminder that the entire society reaps the rewards of embracing diversity. Consider the research and development (R&D) investments made in assistive technology, particularly predictive typing software for People with Disabilities, back in the early 1990s. These initial efforts paved the way for predictive text features on the brick phones of the 1990s through the 2010s. Subsequently, this technology evolved into voice-typing and voice-activated digital platforms, such as Siri and Alexa, which have now become ubiquitous. Today’s R&D efforts, centered around addressing challenges faced by People with Disabilities, will similarly contribute to the development of future consumer products, accessible to the wider public in around three decades. This underscores that progress in making the world more inclusive doesn’t solely benefit PwD; it’s a boon for society at large.


Tim Harte GAICD is the Victorian State Director for Physical Disability Australia, Chair of the Surf Coast Shire Council disability advisory committee, and a Chemistry Honours student at Deakin Universities Institute for Frontier Materials.

Photo Caption: Surf Coast Shire Council (SCSC) staff with members of the Councils’ All Abilities Advisory Committee (AAAC). Left-Right: Thomas Byrnes (AAAC Member), Tim Harte (AAAC Chair), Larry the therapy dog, Damian O’Brien (SCSC Youth Development Officer), Jennine Templar (SCSC staff), Sherridan Bourne (former SCSC Aged, Youth and Access coordinator), Cr Mike Bodsworth, Richard Porter (AAAC Member) & Abby Ellery (SCSC Aged, Youth and Access coordinator).

Congratulations to PDA’s elected Board Members.

Following Saturday’s PDA AGM, elections for the Board positions of TAS Director and VIC Director took place.

It is with great pleasure that we announce that Tim Harte (VIC Director) was re-elected to the position and also voted by the Executive to continue in his ancillary role of PDA Treasurer.

We also welcome Tammy Milne to the role of TAS Director and look forward to seeing both successful candidates’ continued commitments and successes in these roles over the next three years.

PDA holds its 2023 AGM

On Saturday 18th November, PDA held its 2023 Annual General Meeting, which was well attended and brought together our Board, Members and Ambassador, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM.

Attendees heard from the PDA Team about the organisation’s efforts in 2023, plans moving into 2024 and beyond and together were part of the Physical Disability Australia conversation.

Dinesh also shared his thoughts around issues affecting the disability community and his hopes for positive reform.

Thank you to all our Members who attended, are an active part of the PDA community and who play an active role in PDA maintaining its place as an active and understanding supporter of Australians living with physical disability. 

If you’re not yet a PDA MEMBER and have an interest in making a positive contribution to Australia’s disability landscape, think about signing up for FREE MEMBERSHIP by going to


We look forward to welcoming you to the PDA community.

It’s not too late to register for THIS SATURDAY’S PDA AGM (Saturday 18th November 2023).

We invite all our members to join us via Zoom.

3pm Sydney/Melbourne/Hobart/Canberra
2:30pm Adelaide
2pm Brisbane
1:30pm Darwin
12pm Perth

Hear what we’ve been up to in 2023, what our plans are moving forwards and to be part of the Physical Disability Australia conversation.

With updates from PDA Ambassador, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, and the PDA Team, our Annual General Meeting will be a great chance for Members to be an active part of the PDA community.

Wherever you are in Australia, you can attend via Zoom.

All you need is a phone, laptop, tablet or computer.

But you will need to register by going to:


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Meeting documents will be circulated ahead of the AGM.

We really look forward to you joining us and saying “hi”.

Congratulations to PDA’s Ambassador, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, on being awarded a Prestigious Scholarship

Dinesh Palipana has been awarded a General Sir John Monash Scholarships to undertake postgraduate study with an overseas university in 2024.

“Sir John Monash, one of Australia’s greatest civic and military leaders, believed education is not given for individual benefit, but for the higher duties of citizens who seek to advance society.

Dr Palipana will join the University of Edinburgh and Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh, which are among the oldest leading institutions globally providing medical education, to complete a Masters in Internal Medicine.”

Why are our airports and airlines still getting accessibility and disability protocols so wrong?

Following ongoing and recent airline and airport incidents involving people living with disability, PDA last month circulated a Position Statement outlining the urgent need for airline and airport staff to undergo disability and inclusion training and listen to passengers with disability and their carers.

Following on from the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability reporting on the requirement for a complete overhaul of the procedures for supporting people with disability travelling by air, it is imperative that accessibility and airport and airline practices are revised to provide inclusive air travel experiences for all air travellers.

To read more about our Position Statement go to:


Supports available outside the NDIS

Written by Paul Williamson- PDA ACT Associate Director

With all the discussion and focus on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), it can be easy to overlook the fact that only a relatively small proportion of people living with disability are participants in the scheme.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that approximately 4.4 million people in Australia report living with a disability. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) reports that 610,504 people are participants in the NDIS as at the end of June 2023. This represents only 13% of people living with disability in Australia.

So what supports are available for people with disability who are not scheme participants?

The answer will come as no surprise to many people with disability – relatively few. The Federal Minister for the NDIS, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, has even conceded this point, echoing the widespread view in the disability community that the NDIS is becoming ‘the only lifeboat in the ocean’.

It’s a big ocean

There are limited measures provided by the Commonwealth Government intended to address gaps in services for people not eligible to join the NDIS. The delivery of services for people with disability was largely the remit of state and territory governments prior to the introduction of the NDIS in 2013. It was envisaged that state and territory governments would continue to deliver services to people not eligible to join the NDIS after its introduction, however this is not what has happened in many cases.

States and territories still provide some funding, though many programs that were previously funded have transitioned into the NDIS, and what is left provides only limited support. 

In the ACT for example, the main publicly funded support for people not on the NDIS include the following:

  • * Community Assistance & Temporary Supports (CATS) program which provides short-term support for people with a health issue, illness or injury. There is no age restriction, and eligibility criteria include (as well as living in the ACT):
    • * Be ready to leave hospital but unable to access the supports to help you return home safely through an existing program (such as the NDIS or Commonwealth aged care program).
    • * Have a health condition that is temporary or terminal, and not likely to get assistance through another program such as the NDIS or Commonwealth aged care program.

The program commenced on 1 October 2023, drawing several closing programs together, and has a modest annual budget of around $8 million dollars. I say modest as the program applies to all people, not just people with disability, and a large proportion of recipients are likely to be the elderly.

  • * Integrated Service Response program which provides short-term co-ordination support for people with high or complex support needs, and funding to purchase emergency supports and services from non-government providers. Many recipients of support under the scheme are already NDIS participants. The program has an annual budget of approximately $1.1 million dollars.

The ACT Government concedes that it is a ‘program of last resort’.

  • * The Disability Gateway provides links to information about services for people with disability in each state and territory. Many of these services however appear mostly to be available to people with NDIS funding or operate on a full fee for service model.

There is also some funding for advocacy services and things like concessions on utilities and transport vouchers.


For the majority of people living with disability, this means that they must fund their own supports – that, or rely on friends, family or volunteer services for assistance when required. Not an ideal situation for some of the most vulnerable people in the community who often struggle to find secure, stable employment.

It really shouldn’t be that surprising that we have seen a stampede of people seeking to join the NDIS – some even seeking access prospectively, just in case their condition deteriorates. It also explains the angst on the part of participants and the disability community any time the issue of scheme sustainability or eligibility is raised.

The NDIS was designed to operate on a 50:50 cost sharing arrangements between the Federal and state/territory governments, however due to the current capped nature of state and territory government contributions – the Federal Government is currently meeting around 70 per cent of the NDIS budget. By 2026-27, that figure is expected to reach 75 per cent.

At the end of June 2023, the value of plan budgets in the ACT was $702 million. Based on the original cost sharing arrangement, the ACT Government’s share of this would be $351 million. In 2022-23, the ACT is expected to contribute $189.9 million.

The progressive cost shifting to the Federal Government makes the spend on the part of the ACT Government (outside of its existing NDIS contribution) seem modest indeed.

Way forward

The National Disability Insurance Agency forecasts that the number of NDIS participants will reach $1 million within the next decade, and value of the program reach close to $100 billion annually.

There is a range of proposals being considered by the NDIS Independent Review to ensure funding for the NDIS is secured well into the future. Increasing the proportional increase in contributions by state and territory governments should be one of them.


Queenslanders with Disability Network is inviting those in the states/territories listed above to become Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness (P-CEP) Peer Leaders.

P-CEP Peer Leaders are people with disability helping to raise awareness with other people with disability about P-CEP.

The P-CEP is a framework and toolkit for people with disability to prepare for their safety and wellbeing in emergencies.

Co-designed by people with disability to prepare for their safety and wellbeing in emergencies, it draws on the research that informed person-centred and strengths-based approaches to making an emergency plan tailored to individual support needs in emergencies.

The program introduces you to the P-CEP Workbook and helps you to take steps to get ready for emergencies. Peer Leaders want to learn together about what people can do for themselves and what they may need support for in emergency situations.

Workshops will be run between October 2023 – February 2024. Join the workshop series in October. It is important to come to all 4 workshops in the series. Each workshop will go for 1 – 1.5 hours.

People who join the P-CEP Learning Community will receive payment to contribute to their time and expenses in taking part in learning.

For more information please go to https://qdn.org.au/our-work/disability-inclusive-disaster-risk-reduction/pcep-peer-leadership-program/ , contact QDN on 1300 363 783 or email the team at didrr@qdn.org.au.

PDA Members are invited to attend our AGM on Saturday 18th November 2023 via Zoom.

Join us to hear what we’ve been up to in 2023, what our plans are moving forwards and to be part of the Physical Disability Australia conversation.

With updates from PDA Ambassador, Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, and the PDA Team, our Annual General Meeting will be a great chance for Members to be an active part of the PDA community.

We hope that you join us and look forward to welcoming you.

Wherever you are in Australia, you can attend via Zoom.

All you need is a phone, laptop, tablet or computer.

But you will need to register by going to:


If you don’t have a Zoom account, signing up is free, quick and easy. Follow the prompts to create an account.

If you experience problems, please email us at promotion@pda.org.au or call 1800 PDA ORG (1800 732 674).

3pm Sydney/Melbourne/Hobart/Canberra

2:30pm Adelaide

2pm Brisbane

1:30pm Darwin

12pm Perth

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Meeting documents will be circulated ahead of the AGM.

We really look forward to you joining us and saying “hi”.

Thrilled to be counted with everyone else.

Written by PDA’s QLD Associate Director, Sarah Styles

We are all familiar with the journey of learning to thrive through disability. This path normally involves years of searching for answers with many setbacks in finding the best management plan and supports. Then, dealing with organisations like NDIA brings challenges that can push us past our limits. It is after years of this I found my mental health at a low. 

Since my exercise physiologist is working well with me, I decided to enter a powerlifting competition. It would give me a healthy goal that involves other people in the form of other competitors and those that work with us. Turned out to be the best decision.

Benefit 1 – Starting bench press improved my body in an unexpected way!

As someone with hEDS my connective tissue is too stretchy and cannot support my body and organs the way they are designed to. As a result, my muscles need to be extra strong to support my joints instead. It’s also hard to stretch because I hyper-extend and get no benefits, even though my body is screaming out for it.  My body desires to move and get strong but more often than not I get injured doing simple things. 

Lying down on the bench press provides a decent stretch without injury throughout my whole body. Winning already! 

Benefit 2 – Mental Health

My mental health improved immediately as expected. Physically feeling better and stronger coupled with a goal to work towards really did the trick. 

Benefit 3 – Meeting people who are happy to work with me – no matter what that means! 

Powerlifting Australia informed me that the next competition was fast approaching, and they were happy to make adjustments to make it happen last minute. Not only that, but there is no segregation. Adjustments are made so everyone can compete together regardless of their physical ability. Which I really appreciated. This alone was uplifting and empowering. 

Competition day. 

The first thing I noticed was the family vibe. Feeling that, I knew everything would be fine.  Despite arriving an hour late to prevent health issues – I struggled – but they flew into action. I was informed of anything I didn’t know, such as doing weigh in, choosing what weight I’d lift for my 3 attempts, then warming up. 

It takes a lot of people to make a competition run. Everyone knew their job and functioned so well as a team you’d not know if there was a problem they had to solve. I ended up pressing my personal best – which was exciting – and leaving with a gold medal!

As a spectator you can’t help but cheer everyone on. I even witnessed a world record being made. I am definitely looking forward to the next competition and I’m thrilled to be counted with everyone else.