1980s: A new era of awareness

The early 1980s ushered in a new way of thinking about disability. Attitudes towards disability had begun to change and having a disability began to be thought of less as a person’s defining characteristic and more as a composite part of a person’s identity. This shift was acknowledged on a global scale in the naming of 1981 as the ‘International Year of Disabled Persons.’

In Australia the 1980s saw the implementation of the Restraint, Seclusion & Aversion Therapy Act which, despite creating a huge administration burden for the staff at the Echuca and District Centre for Intellectually Handicapped Children, was instrumental in recognising the equal human rights of people with an intellectual disability. The Victorian Parliament passed the Intellectually Disabled Persons’ Services Act, designed to reform the law relating to services for intellectually disabled persons, and the Intellectual Disability Services Department of Community Services Office was established in 1985, taking over responsibilities from the Health Department of the disability sector.

As these momentous changes took place on the international and national stages, similar dynamism was occurring closer to home. Tehan House hosted a Regional Adults with Disabilities Conference in Echuca in 1981 and building work continued apace at Tehan House itself. The new adult wing, now known as the West End, was completed and provided the much-needed space to increase and enhance learning opportunities for the clients.

Amongst all this industry and progress the Centre suffered a devastating loss on December 22, 1981, when Dr James Alexander died suddenly, aged just 55.

In September of 1982 the Peter Belleville Hydrotherapy Pool was completed, and in 1983 the parents who formed the original activity group for their children celebrated 20 years of receiving services.

Families with young children were able to have staff visit their homes and kindergartens to give support and set-up programs through the home-based Early Intervention Program.

The Centre purchased two flats in Connelly Street, Echuca to provide an independent living option for adult clients and, generous donation from the local community, Kanyana Activity & Therapy Centre in Francis Street officially opened. A purpose built facility for the delivery of Day Services and Supported Employment – expanded on the services already being delivered at the Tehan House site.

The Centre also invested in a client communication program involving the use of signing communication boards, touch talkers and communicators for non-verbal clients.

On the corner of High and Radcliffes Street, Echuca, Town Hall Tearooms commenced business employing clients and support workers, with the emphasis being on the development of self-esteem and vocational skills in a genuine working environment.

The Grasshouse Effects Gardening Service and Greenthumbs Plant Hire & Sales were two more small businesses that commenced in 1988 and were based at Tehan House.

At the end of the 1980s there were 73 people enrolled in services – 11 school-aged children and 62 adults.


This story is an excerpt from Our Vivid History, a collection of stories celebrating over 50 years of our organisation. If you would like to order a copy of the book, please click below.

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