Words and language can be powerful tools in changing attitudes, ideas and practice. There are strong views about disability terminology.  Here is a brief explanation of the terms used by DPO Australia and why we choose to use them.

Disabled People’s Organisations

The term ‘Disabled People’s Organisation’ or ‘DPO’ is used to describe non-government organisations that are governed, led and constituted by people with disability.

‘DPO’ became the internationally accepted term at the time of the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, when people with disability all over the world began to organise ourselves into our own organisations.1

DPOs collectively form a disability rights movement that places people with disability at the centre of decision-making in all aspects of our lives.  This is known internationally through the motto, “Nothing About Us, Without Us”.

DPOs are representative organisations of people with disability, and distinct from representative organisations for people with disability.  The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) outlines the obligation of States Parties2 to guarantee the participation and involvement of representative organisations of people with disability in decision-making in all aspects of our lives [Article 4(3)], to promote the establishment of organisations of people with disability [Article 29(b)(ii)] and ensure our participation in CRPD implementation and monitoring [Articles 4(3) and 33(3)].  The CRPD provides the framework to ensure that people with disability, through our representative organisations are the main participants in CRPD implementation, and our opinions should always be given priority in matters affecting our lives.3

We have named our alliance, Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia) to make it clear that we are made up of DPOs that are part of the international disability rights movement, and that our work is underpinned by the CRPD and a human rights framework.

People with disability

The social model of disability recognises that ‘disability’ is the result of the interaction between people with impairments and barriers that prevent full participation in society on an equal basis with others.

In Australia, the social model terminology for individuals is ‘person with disability’ or ‘people with disability’. This is also called ‘person first’ language – it acknowledges the person first, before it acknowledges the disability.  Person first language is viewed as emphasising the value and worth of the individual by recognising them as a person instead of reducing them to their disability.

In other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the social model terminology is ‘disabled people’.  This is also called ‘identity first’ language – it acknowledges disability as an important aspect of a person’s identity.  Identity first language is viewed as recognising that disability is a part of a person’s identity, not an added extra.  Disability cannot be separated from who you are as a person.

There is a growing movement of people with disability in Australia and internationally that prefer ‘identity first’ language.4

DPO Australia generally uses the term ‘people with disability’ to reflect the widely accepted social model terminology in Australia.  However, we respect, acknowledge and use the term ‘disabled people’ when this is an individual or group preference.

For further information, contact us.

1 See for example, Disabled People’s International (DPI), http://www.dpi.org/; Independent Living Institute, http://www.independentliving.org/docs5/RoleofOrgDisPeople.html; Pacific Disability Forum, http://www.pacificdisability.org/

2 States Parties are nation States, such as Australia, that have ratified a treaty.

3 For more detail on the key role of DPOs, see UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities’, UN Doc A/HRC/31/62, Agenda item 3.

4 See for example, Lydia Brown, ‘The Significance of Semantics: Person-First Language: Why It Matters’, Autistic Hoya, 4 August 2011, http://www.autistichoya.com/2011/08/significance-of-semantics-person-first.html; Cara Liebowitz, ‘I am Disabled: On Identity-First Versus People-First Language’, the body is not an apology, March 20, 2015, https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/i-am-disabled-on-identity-first-versus-people-first-language/; Shawn Burns, ‘People first vs identity first: a discussion about language and disability’, Disability & Media Matters, January 24, 2016, https://disabilitymediamatters.me/; Jax Jacki Brown, ‘#SayTheWord: Why I’m reclaiming the word ‘disabled’, DailyLife, January 21, 2016, http://www.dailylife.com.au/news-and-views/dl-opinion/saytheword-why-im-reclaiming-the-word-disabled-20160120-gma4uj.html