Disability Adviser to the Premier of South Australia, Richard Llewellyn, wrote this speech, ‘Empowering the Powerless’, for Premier John Bannon to give at the opening of the Disabled Peoples’ International First Asian-Pacific Regional Conference in Adelaide with over 400 disabled people from 30 countries attending

4 November 1984 – Adelaide Showground’s Goyder Pavillion

Introduction to guests and dignitaries

Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: Thank you Mr Kyprianou for your kind words and welcome to me this morning. I would like to extend a warm welcome to Australia to all of you who have come from 30 other countries. South Australia is proud to be hosting the First Asian/Pacific Regional Conference of Disabled Peoples’ International with its theme ‘Developing a Voice of our Own’.

I offer a special welcome to you. Senator Yashiro, as Chairperson of the Asia/Pacific Region, and to you Mr Ron Chandran-Dudley, as Chairperson of Disabled Peoples’ International. I welcome you all to South Australia and to this the First Asia/Pacific Regional Conference of Disabled Peoples’ International.

Formation of Disabled Peoples’ International, then DPI (Australia)

This Conference is another unique and historic event in the progress of disabled people throughout the world. The International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 was a catalytic year for people with disabilities. In November of 1981 some 400 disabled people gathered in Singapore to form the first international organisation run by and for disabled people themselves.

Several South Australians were among the international participants at this Singapore Conference. On returning to South Australia, they were determined to form a branch in this State. In May 1982 South Australia established the first DPI Branch in Australia, DPI (SA).

DPI (Australia) was formed at the first National Congress, held in Melbourne, Victoria in January 1983. Since then, DPI has grown into a strong national voice for people with disabilities within Australia.

Australia as part of the Asia-Pacific region

Traditionally, Australians have not seen themselves nor been seen by others, as part of the Asia-Pacific region. We have more closely identified ourselves with Europe and the North Americas. In recent years however, there has been a growing interest and identification with the Asian-Pacific region. It is a tribute to disabled people that they are leading the way in holding their regional conference here in this country.

The Asia-Pacific region is significant in the disability area, as over half the world’s estimated 500 million disabled people live within it.

Full participation with equality in action

This is a special occasion to have all of you from throughout this wide-spread region and we hope to use this opportunity to learn from you and to show you some of the achievements we have made in the disability field. My government accepted the UN’s International Year of Disability – IYDP 1981 theme of “full participation with equality” for disabled people and this conference is certainly an example of the ability of people with disabilities when they are given such an opportunity.

Both Commonwealth and the State Governments have assisted this convention by providing funds to employ five people in a secretariat which has been very ably run by Jeff Heath. All of the members of the secretariat have disabilities and all of them were unemployed at the time of their appointment.

The presence of this group of people here today stands as both a tribute to the ability of people with disabilities and secondly as a condemnation of past societies who have failed to recognise and develop the resource potential of their disabled members. I notice from the program that DPI is recognising this potential within people with intellectual disabilities. Intellectually disabled persons have played their part in planning this conference and will be participants in the many special-interest workshops.

Throughout the year your regional Chairperson, Senator Yashiro has kept a watchful eye on the proceedings and organisation. His enthusiasm for this convention has brought him on his own private visit to Australia earlier this year.

Thanks to supporters of the First Asia-Pacific DPI Conference

Not all of the support of the convention however, has been left to the responsibility of disabled people. Many in our community have contributed their talents, time and resources to the success of this conference. Although there are too many people to name, I know that DPI would like to acknowledge some specific grants which have been made available to the conference. These are the Australian Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the United Nations’ I.Y.D.P. Trust Fund, the Japanese Government and the N.S.W. Government and the Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. The Christian conference of Asia has also made a substantial donation.

A rather unique effort by the working staff of Levi Strauss Jean manufacturers in South Australia who have funded two disabled delegates from less-developed nations. Another unique contribution has been by 29 unemployed young people. These young people walked the 360 kilometers of the Morgan-Whyalla Pipeline to raise funds for the convention and to recognize the 50th anniversary of this crucial method of ensuring continuous water supplies to one of our rural cities.

Disability in rural settings

Many of you are aware of the difficulties of living in rural situations. Most people with disabilities in the Asia/Pacific Region live in rural communities. They often have little opportunity for literacy and the acquisition of independent coping skills. These people are vitally aware of the disabilities which the lack of clear water can cause.

It is estimated that 25% of the productive potential of rural communities is lost because of disability. It is even more tragic that a great deal of this disability could be prevented with simple immunisation programmes.

Disability and poverty are inextricably linked and even in Australia, disabled people are the poorest of the poor. Without the provision of reasonably priced accommodation, many people would not have been able to attend this conference.

Transport too, has been a key component of planning. There is a choice for those delegates who wish to have more expensive accommodation and transport facilities. However, the planners have kept as a criteria the need for inexpensive solutions in order to maximise participation.

Developing a Voice of Our Own

The Conference theme, ‘Developing a Voice of Our Own’, suggests that you are about to enter an exciting and challenging week. Program planning for the conference began in August 1983. The aim was to develop a democratic and open method of shaping the conference issues and topics. All members were invited to contribute papers, ideas, speakers’ names and suggestions for the program.

The program you have before you represents the issues and concerns raised by people with disabilities throughout the region. Considerable attention has been given to balancing the program in terms of participation of men and women with disabilities, disability types, nationalities, and people from less-developed situations.

In fact, anyone who wishes to make a contribution to this conference can do so from a unique concept of a speakers’ corner. Speakers’ corner will run for three afternoons in conjunction with workshops. Every effort has been made to make the conference an opportunity for equal participation. It is now up to you to take advantage of the opportunities offered. The conference theme ‘Developing a Voice of Our Own’ will be created and strengthened by your full participation.

South Australian Government disability initiatives for empowerment

My government is interested in and supports the principles behind the self-help movement. Not only has my government supported this conference, we are also developing other initiatives to ensure that disabled people have the same opportunities as other members of the community. This year we have opened a city-based Disability Information and Resource Centre, designed to provide information to people with disabilities and their families as well as the resources to sustain and encourage small self-help groups. Also, this year, a significantly disabled person was appointed as my adviser on disability. The Disability Adviser provides a focal point within Government for the community and the disability area.

Both the Australian and the South Australian Governments recognise the advantage of developing the independence and participation of people with disabilities. Both governments recognise that it is only through empowering people to participate in decision-making processes that real independence is developed.

Technology and Disability Expo

Before concluding, I would like to commend some of the other activities which have been planned around the major convention. The Leadership Training Seminar is giving a number of overseas delegates additional skills for use in their own countries on their return. The Technology and Disability Expo and related seminars are designed to bring together disabled people, inventors and manufacturers of disability aids and equipment. It is important that disabled people use this opportunity to voice their ideas of appropriate technology for their requirements, and that technologists listen and work in conjunction with disabled people in producing useful aids and equipment.

Conclusion

I am delighted that you have all gathered in Adelaide on this exciting occasion. I hope you enjoy your stay here and that you leave with new friendships, new links, new ideas and above all new visions.

I declare the First Asia-Pacific Regional Conference of DPI open.