From criminalisation to individual choice: policy responses to changing constructions of intellectual disability in Western Australia

Mrs Wendy Simpson1, Dr Trudi Cooper1, Dr Vicki Banham1

1Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia

The presentation explores how social constructions of disability influenced policy and services for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) in WA from the time of British colonisation until the present day. Policies in each era became embedded in social and physical infrastructure. Despite adaptations, the legacy of ideologies of disability from previous eras remained in the physical infrastructure, often outlasting the policies that informed their construction decades earlier. The relationship between contemporary ideals of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and the physical and intellectual legacy of previous policy is also discussed.

The history is explored over time, defined by dominant social constructions of ID in each era. The paper uses a critical disability perspective in the analysis of disability constructs, political responses and social change, incorporating the Foucauldian concept of biopower.

The goals of normalisation and deinstitutionalisation have been partially achieved, though legacies of ideologies that informed practices still remain. However, there are still serious gaps in practical support and in a sense of community for people with ID. Social equality is not achievable until all discursive forms of dividing practices are challenged, including new and emerging forms. A legacy of a welfare-based response to disability continues to underpin the NDIS.

A shift from a ‘welfare focus’ to a broader agenda of rights and genuine inclusion in social and economic realms, a central goal of critical disability theory, is needed to ensure that policy direction remains centred on the goals of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020.


Wendy Simpson completed her Masters research in 2016, and is currently continuing to study the lived experiences of disability through her PhD research. Wendy works as a Research and Evaluation Coordinator in a not-for-profit community organisation in WA. Wendy’s background is within the aged care and the disability sector.

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