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History of Self Advocacy and People First

David looking at camera and smiling

My name is David Corner I am a self-advocate from New Zealand. I am the self-advocate representative for the Asia Pacific region on Inclusion International’s council and one of the Empower Us leaders.

I am interested in the history of self-advocacy and how we have got to where we are today.

The self-advocacy movement for people with an intellectual disability started in Sweden in the late 1960s and spread to the United States in the early 1970s.

Self-advocacy was first started by people in leisure groups speaking up for themselves about how they wanted to be treated by other people.

People with an intellectual disability said that they wanted to advocate for themselves and make their own choices and decisions.

At a meeting the name People First was brought up when a group of people were deciding what they wanted to be called. Someone said we are all people first even though everyone has some kind of disability.

People with an intellectual disability started to form their own self-advocacy groups and lots of groups have used the name People First.

Over the years the idea of self-advocacy movement has spread into other countries and has grown all over the world.

People First of Manitoba (and its supporters) protest outside the Winnipeg Convention Centre at the Manitoba NDP's Leadership Convention.


I am aware that  People First groups in New Zealand and in Canada as well as other groups in different countries have been involved with campaigns helping their countries to close institutions for people with intellectual disabilities with marches and protests as well as other campaigns.

People First groups have had some international conferences around the world for self advocacy and this has helped with the development and growth of self advocacy around the world

Inclusion International brought together a group of self advocates from different countries in 1993 and they wrote a booklet called 'The beliefs, values and principles of self advocacy'.

The group became known as the  Self-Advocacy Task Force  and this led to having self-advocates on the Inclusion International council.

Image result for self advocacy inclusion internationalThe self-advocate council members have worked together over the past few years to find out more about what self-advocacy is like around the world today. You can read about it in our Global Report, Self-advocacy for Inclusion. The work on the report inspired the Empower Us project which we now lead.

Self advocates at the EPSA general meeting

I think it is interesting that sometimes people have said that self-advocacy groups are different from leisure groups. But we all must realise how the self-advocacy movement first started and that was with leisure groups. It is important that we all have leisure and social activities in the community as this can lead to us meeting with different people and making friends as well as helping us to learn how to speak up about things we have in common, get to know each other and share our experiences learn our rights and become self-advocates.


Some of the big issues that self-advocates around the world are working on now is the right to live in the community, to be treated with respect, access to education, supported decision, making legal capacity and the right to decide.

In 2006 the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was agreed, it says that all people with disabilities have the right to be heard. Self-advocates played a big part in influencing what was in the Convention.

Image result for robert martin inclusion international

Last year, for the first time, a self-advocate called Robert Martin was elected onto the Committee of the Convention of the Rights of Person’s with Disabilities. Robert and the committee has a very important role checking to make sure that countries around the world are following the convention and respecting the rights of people with disabilities.

We have come a long way since self advocacy and people first started but it is just as important now as it was back them and it is important that we never forget where we have come from and include all people with intellectual disabilities.

We must remember nothing about us without us and we all can communicate our experiences and take part in different ways.